By Heidi Smith
Odds are, if you live in Thurston County either you or someone you know has benefitted from the work of the PARC Foundation. If you’ve ridden at Olympia Skate Court, enjoyed the Quarry Pool in Tenino, used a kayak through Olympia Parks Arts & Recreation, or borrowed a bicycle from the Yellow Bicycle Project, you’ve been impacted by their efforts. The challenge? “A lot of people don’t know that we exist or what we do,” says Heather Antanaitis, one of the all-volunteer staff at the foundation.
How this organization helps is by supporting city parks departments and other organizations throughout Thurston County in raising funds for their programs and initiatives. “The PARC Foundation is the only non-profit in Thurston County whose sole purpose is to raise funds and advocate on behalf of parks and recreation services,” says Paul Simmons, Director of Olympia Parks, Art and Recreation. “They are such a huge resource and asset for us.”
On Saturday, November 7 the PARC Foundation will host the 6th annual Puddle Jump, with all proceeds going to support their efforts. Participants can run, walk or stroll through a 5K or 10K course starting at the Chehalis Western Trailhead at 9:00 a.m. Registration will begin at 7:30 and end at 8:45. Participation costs $35.
Originally the Puddle Jump was organized by the Thurston Chamber of Commerce, says Antanaitis, which funded it through a grant focused on workplace wellness. When the grant expired, Chamber planned to discontinue the race, which is when the Foundation stepped in. The goal of this year’s event is two-fold, she says: raise money and increase the organization’s public profile. “We’re all volunteer right now,” she says. “Our goal is to move into having paid staff.”
As a non-profit, the Foundation is able to go after grants that support multiple local groups, including some that don’t enjoy non-profit tax status, like the City of Tenino. “The PARC Foundation has been really good for Tenino,” says city council member Wayne Fournier. “We don’t have a lot of civic groups that apply for grants, so they’ve helped us get a lot of things off the ground.”
For example, he says, “When the Adam Craig Foundation wanted to start the Four Square Mile Music Festival, a PARC grant helped them do that.” Every two years the city hosts the Splash Bash, a fundraising event to support the Tenino Quarry Pool. Since it’s a bi-annual event, it didn’t make sense to create an entire non-profit to support it. Instead, says Fournier, PARC acts as financial wing of the committee that organizes the dinner. “As a 501(c)(3), they can accept corporate donations,” he says. “Every year they raise around $20,000 that supplements what the city does.”
In Tenino, PARC has also helped to facilitate the Yellow Bike Project through a grant from the Nisqually Tribe. “It started as a guerilla public works project,” says Fournier. “A group of citizens were taking bicycles, painting them yellow and leaving them for public use. Now they’ve been able to get a bike corral. It’s like a public library. The business gives you a key and you go check out a bike for as long as you want.”
For the City of Lacey, the Foundation has played a key role in providing outdoor programs for kids, including specialized recreation for those with physical and mental disabilities. “There are so many programs that kids wouldn’t have without the Foundation,” says Lori Flemm, Lacey Parks and Recreation Director. “They’re very supportive of our youth programs. We have gotten so much equipment, including backpacks and tents, for our teen outdoor program through the grants they’ve facilitated.” PARC also sponsored an application to the Nisqually Tribe for Lacey’s Summer Lunch program, says Flemm. “These are people who are passionate about giving kids opportunities.”
Simmons says the group has been an incredible partner for the City of Olympia. “They’ve helped us with a scholarship program so that low income folks can gain access to our recreation programs,” he says. “They were instrumental in getting the Olympia Skate Court built.”
While PARC has been a great support to other organizations, their goal is be able to support themselves. Currently they keep very little of the grant money they facilitate for other groups, despite incurring costs in the process. Events like the Puddle Jump help to leverage those costs.
A similar organization in Vancouver, Washington, seems to have figured out how to be sustainable, says Antanaitis. “The city gave them office space,” she says. “They understand the value of the organization and supply them with all their office needs.” That group has a three-quarter time director, a half-time marketing director and several paid staff. “They’ve done a really good job of creating awareness,” she says. “That’s one of the things we want – for people to realize what we can do.”