Tacoma is that kind of town. It’s a place where otherwise unassuming people with a vision can make a difference — a big difference.
We’ve seen it over and over again.
On Wednesday, the Tacoma City Club hosted an event honoring those kind of people. The club gave this year’s Dennis Seinfeld Emerging Leader Award to a young woman who exemplified that spirit.
Seinfeld was a Tacoma attorney whose civic work started in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. He went on to serve on the Tacoma Human Relations Commission and the Tacoma Community College Board of Trustees, along with several other civic boards. Seinfeld died in 2005.
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Steph Farber, co-owner of LeRoy Jewelry and The Art Stop, spoke about his friend Wednesday. Farber also talked about community projects that never would have happened without people such as Seinfeld who have a passion for serving.
The Pantages Theater was one of those projects.
In 1978, seven local women decided they would rescue the old, shuttered Roxy Theater at Ninth and Broadway. Five years later, after doing much of the cleanup themselves, they opened the refurbished building as the Pantages.
In the mid-1980’s, the abandoned Union Station on Pacific Avenue was about to be torn down when a citizens’ group stood up. Save Our Station wrangled $50 million to save the old rail station, renovate it and turn it into a federal court house.
The effort inspired a new vision for Tacoma’s old warehouse district that eventually led to a new state history museum, a University of Washington branch campus, a glass museum and a new art museum.
About the same time, two Tacoma women set out to create a more walkable downtown, bring workers out of their office cubicles and provide farmers with a place to sell their goods.
Their solution? The downtown Tacoma Farmers Market, established in 1990. Today, the market has four locations and does more than $900,000 in business a year.
Farber, himself, has lent his time and talents to The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, Tacoma’s First Night New Year’s celebration and the American Leadership Forum.
The four young finalists for this year’s Seinfeld award gave great hope that community service is not a thing of the past in Tacoma:
• Stephanie Elske — Diversion case-aid worker for the Pierce County Juvenile Courts, math and English tutor for Clover Park Technical College students and the leadership placement coordinator for Tacoma Goodwill’s YouthBuild program. YouthBuild helps young people get an education and learn construction trade skills.
• Tasha Ina Church — Involved with the annual Race and Pedagogy Conference at the University of Puget Sound and the Conversation, a group that meets to discuss social justice issues.
Through her organization, Ladies First, she helps young women in high school navigate economic, social, sexual and racial challenges. Director of Vibrant Schools, advocating for students in the Tacoma Public Schools.
• Corbin Richmond — A firefighter-in-training at Bates Technical College, active in student government, he has helped other students learn about and earn scholarships like the ones that are helping him complete his own degree.
He volunteers at Fern Hill Elementary in the Communities In Schools program, helping kids learn to drum, serving as a reading tutor and working in the All Sports program.
• T’wina Tanille Franklin — After a childhood spent in homeless shelters and becoming a mother at 16, she came to Tacoma, married and earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees from UPS.
Co-founder of Ladies First, academic instructor for Metropolitan Development Council’s College Bound program at Stadium High School. Outreach coordinator for Tacoma Urban League’s African-American Leadership Forum.
Cheer-leading coach, active with the Parent Teacher Student Association and Statewide Poverty Action Network. And she’s the mother of four.
Franklin received the 2014 Seinfeld award.
Her life has been about finding balance between the “lost” and “found” moments, she said, and Tacoma has given her much.
“In this city, in spite of my past, in spite of my pain, I am set free to pursue new opportunities.”
She wants to give back and to serve.
I’d say she and her colleagues already are doing just that.
As another of the speakers said Wednesday, “It is heartening to know what the future of Tacoma holds for us.”