This is a feature in Issue 15 of Sounders Monthly. Copies are available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central. You can also access it on the Sounders Mobile App.
When the Seattle Sounders launched RAVE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity established to serve the greater Puget Sound community, in July 2016, its mission was clear: bring small, accessible soccer fields to urban areas that provide free play to help strengthen communities and encourage physical activities. When the RAVE Field at Yesler Terrace Park opens on Aug. 25, that dream will become a reality.
“Soccer is a game that brings joy and opportunity to so many people around the world,” Sounders FC owner Adrian Hanauer said in 2016 when RAVE Foundation was launched. “We see it as an obligation to make sure that no one in our community is excluded from experiencing everything that the beautiful game affords.”
The Yesler Terrace is a significant place to start. Founded in 1940, it was the first public housing in the city of Seattle and the first integrated public housing in the country. The community lies on the grounds of where Japanese and other low-income families lived in substandard housing before they were demolished and built over into its current form in 2006. Some of the former residents of the pre-Yesler days moved back into the neighborhood, but others had moved on to other places.
“There’s been a lot of fascinating people, both known and unknown, who have lived here in this community,” said Ben Wheeler, a member of the Seattle Housing Authority who oversees Yesler Terrace as a Community Builder. “It has led to a strong sense of identity of saying, ‘This is a place where art, people and culture thrive’ right in the downtown area of Seattle.”
Announced in 2016, the soccer field at Yesler Terrace Park nears completion
There were 560 households in the original complex before redevelopment, and 60 percent of those households still exist post-reconstruction. Wheeler said one of his major challenges is finding ways to continue to foster relationships and community while the entire structure collectively undergoes this new evolution in its history.
As Yesler Terrace was in the middle of a cultural and structural renaissance of sorts, RAVE Foundation was looking for a location for its new field. It will be a green play space, not just a soccer pitch, and a safe spot for families and kids to come and spend time together.
“RAVE Foundation has been really intentional about involving the community throughout the entire process of planning,” explained Wheeler. “Students were involved in an art project in the design of the aesthetic around the field, including the goals on the field, the way it looked, the way it’s shaped. Kids had an opportunity to really immerse themselves in the planning process and the creativity of saying, ‘What can this space look like?’ Even though it’s a larger community space, it still represents the people who live here and the history.”
“[The new field] says, ‘You’re visible. You’re worthy. We see your value.’” — Yesler Terrace Program Manager LaKesha Kimbrough.
Added Hanauer ahead of the 2018 unveiling: “This field is the culmination of several years of work and the immense support of the entire Yesler Terrace community. We hope that this field serves as a hub for children and a centerpiece of the Yesler Terrace community for generations.”
Wheeler has been bombarded with excited questions from Seattle Housing Authority residents and market-rate housing residents alike about when the field would be completed. No one will ever be allowed to reserve the space, and Wheeler believes that it will be a hub for conversation-starters, food and sports among people who may not otherwise have a reason to interact or befriend one another.
“It breaks down a lot of the barriers and the walls that we place up against each other and we begin to see each other eye-to-eye,” Wheeler said.
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei has played an integral role as well, particularly in the field’s aesthetic. He has visited Yesler Terrace several times and hung out with kids, signed soccer balls and participated and gave creative input in the GOALS for art program.
Stefan Frei has played an integral role of connecting the club to Yesler Park with community visits
“I always thought it was cool, and if you have a chance to get involved and put your art in public space, it’s a sense of pride,” said Frei. “I hope that’s something that the kids are doing to get out of it… It’s important that they have a safe space to participate in these activities. There’s a lot of distractions out there for kids these days that are negative and not as positive as what sports can bring. Sports can be fun, but they can also teach you a lot.”
Added Wheeler: “[Frei’s] been great. It seemed like he really wanted to play soccer with our kids. I was very impressed. Here’s a [professional] athlete, and instead of saying, ‘I don’t have time, I have to get to my next thing,’ he really wanted to be here, he was really present while he was here.”
Having the Sounders be so actively involved is a real source of pride for those who live and work at Yesler Terrace. The Sounders’ home stadium of CenturyLink Field is just one mile from the new field, and to have a sports organization follow through on its continued commitment to community investment does not go unnoticed.
“[The new field] says, ‘You’re visible. You’re worthy. We see your value,’” said Yesler Terrace Program Manager LaKesha Kimbrough. “[The Sounders] could have taken that and invested in an area that’s already economically rich. This area is so rich in so many ways in terms of the resilience and the strength and the skills and the talents that the residents have, but are often not seen and often placed behind others.
“We are so used to hearing organizations say, ‘We value inclusiveness. We value X. We value Y.’ And you don’t get to see it play out,” Kimbrough added. “The Sounders said that they stood for that, and they actually invested in our community in an authentic way, in a way that was meaningful to our community. [They] didn’t come in here and throw up something that’s not going to last or that the community wouldn’t be able to benefit from or doesn’t want or need.”
The Yesler Terrace community is steeped in history. And while the city landscape continues to expand and evolve, there is still so much more history to write, something in which the new RAVE Foundation field will play a small, if vital, role.
“That’s the beauty of what this is doing,” said Wheeler. “We think it’s a green patch of ground, but it’s actually this beautiful patchwork of stories.”