Meet the Staff
Ben has been involved with the planning for the new 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center since 2015, soon after he and his family moved to Washington from California.
He’d spent the previous dozen years at the helm of Intertribal Sports, a nonprofit Native American youth development organization he co-founded in California’s Riverside County. An Oregon State University graduate and native of Bend, Oregon, Ben is an avid hiker, and wanted to return to the Pacific Northwest. At Metro Parks, he found the kind of job he was looking for: one in which he can help a community thrive.
“We put in a lot of effort to make this center what Eastside residents want: a place where everyone in this diverse area will feel at home,” he said. “The Eastside deserves this; it’s long overdue. The center is a source of pride, with outstanding amenities and programs.”
The new center’s location, on the campus of First Creek Middle School and close to densely populated neighborhoods, attracts residents of all ages and backgrounds, he said.
Ben and his wife Christine, a Southern California native, are parents of two small boys.
A “fun fact” Sheryl eagerly shares about her background is that she became a U.S. citizen at age 10 when she was sworn in by the late Sen. Daniel Inouye in an impromptu ceremony in his Honolulu, Hawaii, office.
Sheryl, a Tagalog speaker, was born in the Philippine capital, Manila. When she was 9, she moved to Hawaii where she was adopted by relatives. She, her husband Jason, and college-age son Michael live on the Eastside, where Jason grew up and Sheryl has worked for more than a dozen years. Five years ago, she joined the staff of Portland Avenue Community Center. When Eastside opened, she became the assistant supervisor there.
“I love meeting the people who come into our center,” she said. “I get to know a lot of them by name.”
She’s proud of her chosen neighborhood. “The Eastside is a robust community full of amazing, vibrant cultures and so many personalities,” she said. “The diversity makes this a great melting pot.”
Because the new Eastside Community Center is located on a school campus and incorporates features young people yearned for – a gym, a pool and a sound recording studio – it is a hub of activity.
“My goal and my hope is that people feel welcome and feel a sense of family,” she said. “You have a sense of ownership when you feel that you belong somewhere. You have a sense of pride, you protect it and you take care of it.”
“I’m a people person,” said Lori, who has been a Metro Parks employee for about five years. Previously, she was based at STAR Center and chose to apply for the Eastside job because of her close personal relationship with people in the community. “I went with my heart because I know the Eastside, even though I didn’t grow up there.”
Lori grew up in Seattle, where she graduated from Garfield High School. In 2004, she moved to Eastside Tacoma.
“I watched Salishan grow into a beautiful, diverse community,” she said. She still cherishes relationships developed during that time.
She believes the Eastside Community Center will appeal to senior citizens, military service members and families and that it will stimulate neighborhood business development and job growth.
Perhaps most importantly, the center is a magnet for kids. “It’s a safe haven for children, in both elementary and middle school,” Lori said. “They have a place to go, to do homework or take part in center programs.”
Lori’s grandson Evisu attended Lister Elementary School from kindergarten through second grade before transferring to Midland Elementary School. This fall, he’ll attend Morris E. Ford Middle School in Franklin Pierce School District.
Myra Suarez graduated from Lincoln High School in 2012. Afterwards, she worked with World Vision’s Y.E.P. (Youth Empowerment Program) that was run by Sheryl Blessing (Eastside Community Center’s Assistant Supervisor)
Myra currently works as a Guest Services/ Sales Associate for Eastside Community Center. Her mother Martha also works for Metro Parks Tacoma and has been with us since 2016 as a Custodial/Maintenance worker. Myra is the middle child of three siblings. She has two dogs one named Stud and one named Daisy.
In 2011, Sheryl Blessing and Myra went to Washington D.C. to meet with a senator. They were working on legislation to help parents have child care provided during parent-teacher conferences. Also to be implemented would be a translator for parents who don’t speak English.
She was born in Artesia, California. Myra is fluent in Spanish and is also currently working on being fluent in Korean. She is really into K-Pop, Korean Dramas, watching Anime movies, eating spicy foods, giraffes, Eeorye from Winnie the Pooh, Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Susan Steen was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. She went to Stadium High School back in the day. She has a 2 year degree in Architectural/ Engineering Design from Clover Park Technical College. Last May Susan finished her studies with MHTP which stands for “Music for Healing and Transition Program.” She is currently interning for her certification to become a CMP, “Certified Music Practioner.” She provides live therapeutic music at the bedside for hospice, hospitals and other skilled nursing facilities.
The music that she sings and provides for patients gives them an extremely calming and relaxing experience.
Susan is humbled to see a difference in people in need of a non-pharmaceutical therapeutic intervention. She strongly believes that it is an honor and privilege to provide comfort in music. Susan thinks that the new East Side Community Center is great. She enjoys the individuals she works with and her overall East Side Community Center staff and supervisors. She believes that they support each other in making this new facility the very best for our community. Susan’s current job title/position is Sales Administrative Support for the rentals department within East Side Community Center.
She enjoys performing alongside with her significant other for her friends and family and family events, fund raisers, birthday parties, wedding and anniversaries and almost anywhere anyone is asking for live music. Her significant other is an accomplished guitarist of 40 years that accompanies me while I sing. She was lucky enough to meet her partner-in-crime while preforming in a classic rock band together and have been a duo ever since! Her past singing has lead her over the years to win karaoke contests, she also sung at the Washington State Fair twice in contests and now she just focuses on providing comfort to others. She is blessed to have been given such a gift and she is always glad to share her comfort on stage with others.
Breanna Hernandez is from Tacoma, WA. Her mother is from Ecuador and her Father is from Mexico. She went to Tacoma Public Schools for all her schooling and graduated from Lincoln High School.
She volunteered with Y.E.P. and S.H.E.R.P.A.S. with Sangkros Lok for 4-5 years. Breanna worked for many different Metro Parks events and runs.
She speaks English and Spanish. Breanna began working part-time at Portland Avenue Community Center right after graduating from Lincoln High School in July 2015. She currently works at Eastside Community center as a Guest Services and Sales Associate. ï»¿
She was part of the Folklorizo at Portland Ave which is a traditional Mexican Dance since the 7th Grade. And as if she’s not busy enough, she also works as a medical assistant at Tacoma General Hospital. She enjoys movies, food, soccer, and spending time with family.
Elsa Sanabia was born in Santo, Domingo Dominican Republic. Her mother is from Spain and her father is from Libya. She then moved to New York at age 37. Elsa taught for New York public schools, one in Manhattan and the Bronx, for 10 years. She got her Bachelor’s Degree in Art and Education K-12 and Special Education at NY City College. Elsa enjoys cooking, international dancing, art, and sewing. She can speak Lebanese, Spanish and English.
Elsa then moved to Washington on October 26, 2011. She begun working for Metro Parks Tacoma in February 2012 first as a volunteer decorator for events. Then she was offered a part time job doing front desk/guest services for Portland Avenue Community Center. Elsa also taught ESL classes (English as a Second Language) and Senior Art programs.
Three years ago she got an early retirement check with the NY Board of Education. She has two kids Michael who’s 45 and Melissa who is 40. She has 2 wonderful grandchildren one 24 and one 21. Elsa’s beloved German Shepard Brooklyn is 10 years old.
Eastside Community Center has already greatly impacted her because she feels that there are now opportunities to help make her life healthier. She also loves to see peoples’ reactions to the new center. Elsa enjoys impacting and empowering women to get out of the house and create something they can sell and be proud of. She sees the new center as a place where people from all different backgrounds can come together to make memories.
Mrs. Rita Lele’a-Feliuae is 60 years old and she was born in Gardena, California. Mrs. Rita currently works full-time at CHI Franciscan as a Credentialing Specialist for the past 20 years now. On top of that, she also works at Eastside Community Center as a Sales Admin Support. She helps manage most of the Eastside Community Center memberships.
She constantly finds herself under a lot of stress every day at her full time job at CHI Franciscan. When Mrs. Rita leaves the hospital and enters Eastside Community Center, she feels at peace. She enjoys the amount of respect from both the Eastside Community Center employees and the members.
Our biggest accomplishment so far at Eastside Community Center (because I know there will be more), is the new computer system called ActiveNet. It was hard getting to know a new system, and to get trained in such a short time, but the managers, supervisors, and the leads really helped her do her job. They kept all of the Eastside Community Center employees informed, encouraged, and trained to do our jobs.
Her personal accomplishment is getting healthy and staying healthy. She used to weigh 261 pounds, and had so many health problems. She claims as a Pacific Islander, it is hard to say no to food. Every family gathering the main focus is always food. She took the plunge ten months ago, and got weight loss surgery where she shed 75 pounds. Mrs. Rita thinks that it made her more healthy.
She even stopped taking Insulin and now she has a great personal trainer at the Center that keeps her in line. She wants to be an example to her people and to others in the community. Mrs. Rita wants people to know that age, culture, or whatever keeps you from living, moving, and doing. It is never too late to go out there and live your dreams!
She is also a Pastor’s Wife, and therefore she doesn’t have any free time. However she enjoys her church’s Community Outreach. They set up a tent off of Portland and 26th St. to feed the homeless that are in that area.