Photos by Ty Swenson
TAF's Bethaday Community Learning Center, a place for learning, advancement and community celebration at Lakewood Park in White Center, held it's public open house on Oct. 25 after a seven year journey to fruition. SEE THE GALLERY OF IMAGES BELOW FOR THE SLIDESHOW

SLIDESHOW: Seven years in the making, White Center’s new community and learning center opens to the people

TAF's Bethaday Community Learning Space will bring tech education to the kids of North Highline and beyond

It was 2005. Ron Sims was the King County Executive, Dow Constantine was a member of the county council, and a new business directive had been sent out to the parks department: try to find figure out partnerships to help build park facilities with less public money.

Jessie Israel, a King Couty Parks employee at the time (she now works in the wastewater treatment division), registered the idea and went about her day. She picked up a newspaper and read a story about the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and their Executive Director Trish Millines Dziko’s mission of preparing Puget Sound youth – particularly low-income youth of color – for success in college through science, technology, math and engineering programs.

It clicked. Israel suggested a partnership with TAF, Millines Dziko (referred to as Dziko from here on out) was on board, Lakewood Park in White Center became their target and a plan was hatched to build a community center used by TAF for their programs and available to the community-at-large. King County would donate $2 million to the cause and Trish would be responsible for raising the additional $12 million needed to make it a reality. King County would (and will) lease the land to TAF for $1 a year for the next 50 years.

PLEASE SEE THE GALLERY BELOW FOR MORE IMAGES

“From the public perspective we get a fully operated, built, gorgeous community center on our park for the next 50 years (for a $2 million investment),” Israel said.

Lakewood Park was chosen because, as Israel put it, it was beset with vandalism and drug use. “I knew (Dziko) was doing great things and I knew we wanted a steward in this park and we had a pot of money we were trying to leverage …” Couple that with the county’s goal of providing more computer and technology learning access to the children of North Highline, and the King County Council moved forward in fulfilling their part of the bargain.

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On Oct. 25, 2012, that seven year journey came to fruition as TAF celebrated their official grand opening of the Bethaday Community Learning Space to the public. Through tough economic conditions, TAF was able to raise the necessary funds to complete the project through a mixture of public, private and corporate contributions and grants.

Before the speeches began and the ribbon was cut, the building was truly alive: tours were bustling up and down the stairs as wide eyes of all ages inspected the state-of-the-art, 24,000 square-foot facility with academic rooms and community meeting rooms, a robotics lab, and a "multipurpose" room with garage-style doors that open up into Lakewood Park. The feel-good music of James Brown filled every square foot and plentiful cake and coffee ensured the energy levels for all stayed high.

King County Executive Dow Constantine was first to speak.

“The Bethaday Community Learning Space is so much more than a building,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us. First of all, we’ll start with the entry and magnificent bridge fashioned from ancient King County timbers … it is a physical bridge, but it is also a bridge from current state to a brighter future that exists starting here with TAF.”

The bridge, along with several walls and desks in the facility were built from salvaged lumber when the Park Lake Homes (later called Greenbridge) housing project was torn down directly to the east.

“For many young people of color in particular, this bridge represents opportunity to move forward in life,” Constantine continued. “King County is becoming increasingly diverse … and that is the good news. The bad news, we learned (in the most recent King County Equity Report), is that we continue to have struggles with inequities in society with inequities born of race or family income or zip code holding people back from being able to achieve their full potential. Well, that is exactly what this vision, and now this reality, is about, is opening the door so this dynamic economy based on science, technology and math is not merely about creating great prosperity, but about creating broad prosperity that is accessible to everyone.

“This is a place where young people are going to be able to learn valuable skills in science, technology, and engineering and math and it really matches up with our county commitment to equity and social justice.”

TAF Executive Director Dziko took the microphone next.

“This has been a labor of love,” she said. “This building is not just a building, it is not just a home for TAF, it is a community building. Seventy-five percent of this building is useable by the community and what we want to do is make sure that other non-profits or other organizations that want to bring education – any kind of education into this community – can do so.”

Dziko thanked a long list of people for their help in bringing Bethaday into reality including her family, Jessie Israel, King County’s elected officials and parks department, the architects, TAF’s board of directors, TAF staff and a long list of those who made monetary donations, including Ken Birdwell from Valve Software, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft.

She saved the most heartfelt thank you for last.

“And there is one guy … one very, very special guy: Dick Thurnau,” Dziko said of the 87-year-old White Center resident who had made it his passion to protect Lakewood Park and Hicklin Lake. “We have a special, special, special place in our hearts because from day one you saw the vision that we saw and you got out there and not only did you fight to clean up Hicks Lake (now Hicklin) … you also led (Friends of Hicklin Lake) to support us.

“And every time Dick came to our office, he came with a $500 dollar check and I said, ‘He is going to build this building $500 at a time.’”

The crowd, pushing 100 people, laughed at the notion as Thurnau cracked a big smile.

“We wanted to build this building so you could see it,” Dziko said to the park’s protector. “I want you to come to this building anytime you want because this is as much your building as it is ours.”

As Dziko walked over to give Thurnau a hug he reached into his pocket and pulled out, you guessed it, another $500 check and handed it to her. The crowd erupted and Dziko shook her head in disbelief.

“You got me,” she said, tears coming to her eyes.

“I want to thank all of you, I want to thank all of you for being here, for supporting us through the years, for working with us, for being on or team, for supporting our kids and seeing how they have grown into these amazing human beings … I don’t know what else to say, but let’s just cut the ribbon.”

And with that the crowd migrated outside to the bridge that Greenbridge built where current TAF students were given the honor of cutting the ribbon, officially welcoming the people of North Highline and White Center inside.

For more on TAF and the Bethaday Space, please check out our prior coverage or TAF's website.

The building is located at 605 S.W. 108th St.

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