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Meet Eastside Community Center's leadership team

September 1, 2018

Ben Foster, Sheryl Blessing and Lori Esquibel are gearing up for the center’s fall opening

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Ben Foster, Eastside Community Center Supervisor

Now the supervisor of the Portland Avenue Community Center, 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 will be 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, is sure to attract residents of all ages and backgrounds, he said.

Ben, 42, and his wife Christine, a Southern California native, are parents of two small boys. Their elder son, Sebastian, 4, attends Nurture in Nature preschool at Metro Parks’ Tacoma Nature Center. Sebastian recently impressed his dad by logging several miles on a backpacking trip along the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.

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Sheryl Blessing, Eastside Community Center Assistant Supervisor

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, 39, 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. In April, she was promoted to assistant center supervisor.

“I love meeting the people who come here,” 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 will be a hub of activity from the get-go.

“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.”

In addition to her work for Metro Parks, Sheryl is part-time youth minister at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Parkland, paddles twice weekly with the Tacoma Dragon Boat Association and takes weekly traditional Hula lessons. She also volunteers at Holy Rosary Church, where she attends Mass.

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Lori Esquibel, Eastside Community Center Pass Sales Leader

“I’m a people person,” said Lori, who has been a Metro Parks employee for about four 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, 50, 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 will be a magnet for kids. “It’s a safe haven for children, in both elementary and middle school,” Lori said. “They’ll 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.

Lori said he’s excited about being a pass holder at Eastside Community Center.

About Eastside Community Center

The $31 million, 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center opens this fall at 1721 E. 56th St. The center’s amenities include a multi-use gymnasium, sound recording studio, social hall, culinary kitchen, weight room and cardio-fitness areas, and a large pool with a party room, lap lanes, diving board and hot tub/spa. The building is expected to attract as many as 350,000 users annually, including some 200 youngsters each weekday through programs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.

The project is a partnership involving Metro Parks Tacoma, the City of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Schools, Tacoma Housing Authority, the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, the Greater Metro Parks Foundation and The Billy Ray Shirley III Foundation.

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