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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll visits Redmond, inspires Microsoft employees during giving campaign
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll — a fiery 60-year-old with the energy of a teenager — pushes himself and his players to the limit on the football field.
Off the field, however, Carroll tries just has hard to make a difference in the local communities in which he coaches.
On Tuesday afternoon, the former University of Southern California (USC) Trojans coach visited Microsoft's campus in Redmond during their annual Giving Campaign to tell employees about "A Better Seattle," an organization he recently founded that works with policy makers, elected officials, law enforcement and the community to reduce gang and youth violence.
Carroll's idea began nearly a decade ago after the Trojans' traditional rivalry game against Notre Dame. The Monday after, he turned on the radio to hear horrific news of a string of gang-related deaths in Los Angeles.
"Four kids had been killed over the weekend," Carroll recalled. "On Tuesday morning, in retaliation, two more kids (died), and by Thursday there were 11 kids that had been killed."
Not long after, Carroll got together with his friend Lou Tice, the founder of The Pacific Institute which is headquartered in Seattle, and community leaders to eventually build "A Better L.A."
According to Carroll, as many as 300 or 400 kids a year die in gang-related deaths in Los Angeles on an annual basis.
To change that statistic, Carroll knew there was little that law enforcement could do.
The change had to come from within.
From its early stages, "A Better L.A." has provided a comprehensive training class that teaches skills and addresses issues related to gangs, drugs, self-esteem, emotional issues and helps troubled youth prepare for a better future.
At the heart of the program are the intervention workers, individuals that had been on the streets but decided to transform their lives, and their communities, for the better.
"They were the ones that were the most valuable players, those are the ones that cause the change we bring about you, one-on-one, face-to-face, in their own homes," Carroll said. "When the sheriff's car drives up, the kids scatter … when the LAPD shows up, they all run. When these (intervention workers) make themselves available, then they can start communicating in dialogue."
Upon taking the job as head coach and executive vice-president of the Seahawks last year, Carroll desperately wanted to do the same kind of work in Seattle, but he needed some way to raise the funds needed to put the community outreach workers on the streets.
Enter Microsoft Chief Executive Officer, Steve Ballmer.
MICROSOFT GIVES BACK
Ballmer received a knock on his door earlier this year. It was Carroll, and he had in idea to pitch.
"Steve has a son at USC and I knew there was an L.A. connection as well, so I asked him to "'take one night when you're passing through (Seattle), and I'll meet you down there and show you what's going on,'" Carroll said.
Ballmer politely declined the offer, but remained supportive of the vision, initiating the funding that would go directly to the intervention workers in the area.
"Steve has put (our) guys back in the streets now," Carroll noted. "They were funded but they lost the funding and Steve's recreated it. He doesn't realize it, (but) he's a hero to the families of the kids in those communities, those kids are going to get home after school, make it through the weekend, make it through seventh grade and eighth grade because of the contributions he has made."
With an approximate cost of $25,000 to fund an intervention worker for a year, Carroll said that most of the money raised goes to the training of the workers and helping them make connections with appropriate programs as well as law enforcement, a positive change that Ballmer believes in.
“Pete Carroll has shown incredible leadership on the field and in the community and I am thrilled he is bringing that to create A Better Seattle,” said Ballmer at the launch of the campaign back in September. “We believe in the importance of providing youth with better opportunities."
Though in its infancy, "A Better Seattle" has been welcomed with open arms by the Seattle region as well as the National Football League, according to Carroll.
"The local backing from the mayor's office, the Seattle PD, the Sheriff's Department, it all came together within a couple meetings and we were off and running," he remarked, adding that they were able to create clout with the Seahawks organization as well, and the Seattle YMCA and their Alive & Free program, the official outreach avenue of "A Better Seattle."
The YMCA already has 10 outreach workers out on the streets in Seattle.
All of this comes at a crucial time, as recent budget cuts to law enforcement have forced the elimination to department gang units, as crime has moved into the suburbs.
July's highly publicized shootings at a Kent car show, which injured 13 people, began as an altercation between two rival gangs.
"All the gangs … they all have a hub of some sort," Carroll explained. "If we can get one or two people in an area of 10-12,000 people to do the work we've been talking about, be available on the streets to communicate and most importantly head off retaliation, (they) can save the kids that normally die in those areas."
While Carroll admitted the financial aspect of "A Better Seattle" "is huge," he said that local community members can contribute in a myriad of ways.
"A Better Seattle" often does community outreach events and fundraisers, which always need volunteers.
"Last week, we had a group that worked with us on Los Angeles come up here and meet with 1,100 kids, and they all got gifts, school equipment and all kinds of things," Carroll said. "We need volunteers to help us with those types of events. Just the couple hours you spend in the community, handing stuff out to families, just sending good imagery and keeping the mood afoot."
The successful coach, who has one of the best NCAA records of all-time, 97-19 (.836) during his 10-year run at USC, believes the value of "A Better Seattle" goes even beyond the issue of life-and-death in the suburbs. He noted that in the state of California, with its struggling economy, a gang-related murder costs $1 million to process in total.
"If we save 10 lives, we've saved 10 million dollars in California," Carroll said. "I don't know what that number here is in Washington, but it's ridiculously high. It's the right work for so many reasons."
"A Better L.A.," now in its eighth year, is filled with success stories of former gang members that have righted their lives and are now reaching out and setting troubled teens on the path to success, and Carroll envisions the same here in Seattle and on the Eastside.
He said that in a community like South Seattle, the problem usually lies in a small group of kids, as opposed to the larger-scale gangs in a city like Los Angeles.
"In that essence, that handful of kids terrorizes the community with their activities and the actions they take and the choices that they make," Carroll described. "We have to infiltrate, we have to make in-roads ... (intervention workers) do the work, we make it possible for them to get connected to the kids that need the help."
Eventually, Carroll hopes to get this project pushed to other NFL cities, and has already spoken to commissioner Roger Goodell on the subject. For now, however, his focus will be on reducing gang-related violence and deaths in the Puget Sound area, one child at a time.
"When you get engaged in this world and you start helping some kids and make yourself available, you're going to come back and want to do it again," he said. "It's beautiful, beautiful work and you'll be rewarded time and time again, but it isn't for everybody. It's a hard world we're dealing with, and it takes courage to jump in. What Steve did, as the leader of (Microsoft), to listen to the issues, figure out how he could get involved and really make a statement, it's extraordinary. We're forever indebted for his courage to really get involved."
For more information, visit www.abetterseattle.org.