Until earlier this year, Suite C next to Northwest Leadership Foundation's office in Tacoma was like a number of local storefronts — vacant.
The foundation had seen tenants come and go for the last several years, but no one stayed long until Spaceworks, a joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce designed to activate empty storefronts and vacant space, brought in JD Davis and his nonprofit WayOut Kids.
“It's a good, good, good fit to have him next door,” said Annie Jones-Barnes, executive vice president of Northwest Leadership Foundation. “It's a wonderful partnership. JD is really community-minded. He's a guy that's given to community for years and years and just needed some help.”
Davis and his small multimedia production staff were working in a single room off the foundation's suite before they moved into their current 1,886-square-foot space.
“We were basically busting out of the seams,” “Davis explained. “Moving in here, we were able to put all our stuff together.”
Davis's animators and producer have their own offices now, and he has space to do rehearsals with local children for his live-action, educational videos.
Having this new free space has allowed Davis and his team to focus their resources on the environmental education project he began in 2011. The Rodney Goes Green program includes videos starring Rodney Raccoon, a spunky hip-hop-singing character he created, as well as video games and curriculum for teachers. He expects to have it all complete by mid-September.
Davis has been working with the City and a number of other entities to make sure the materials align with state educational standards. He's been able to fund his project primarily through grants, but he also generates capital from sales as well as from performances and appearances by Rodney.
WayOut Kids plans to stay in the space beyond the six-month rent-free stint with Spaceworks to work on a handful of short educational commercials.
“The transition (to paying rent) will take place at the end of October,” Davis said. “We plan to have our sales and marketing force in full swing by the end of August marketing our new 'Go Green' environmental educational program to schools and city and county stormwater outreach education departments.”
His goal is to eventually have the project in all elementary schools in Western Washington.
“He's just doing an amazing job teaching kids — his Rodney Raccoon character teaches kids their basics through hip-hop. Kids love this guy,” Jones-Barnes said. “He's just an incredible business personality that has a real heart for serving our community.”
Jones-Barnes knows firsthand how Spaceworks can help budding entrepreneurs.
She and Northwest Leadership Foundation worked with Fab-5 for about 10 years before Spaceworks found it its own space.
“Spaceworks allowed them to build their capacity,” Jones-Barnes explained. “Having that gift to not pay rent and that whole burden of operations, that's just a real gift for smaller organizations.”