Old Fire House Teen Center program coordinator to leave position and move to New York

Chris Cullen, who helped organize the Old Fire House Teen Center's popular annual Rockathon, is leaving his job as the teen center's program coordinator to move to New York.

Chris Cullen, who helped organize the Old Fire House Teen Center’s popular annual Rockathon, is leaving his job as the teen center’s program coordinator to move to New York.

Cullen, 45, said he will miss all the people he worked with, especially the kids.

“I’m gonna miss the kids a lot,” he said. “Kids are No. 1. It’s their say that shapes and sculpts the program. It’s their volunteer work that helped create some of the programs that made the place what it is today.”

Cullen’s last day is Saturday, marking the end of a seven-year run as the teen center’s director.

In his second year at the teen center, he collaborated with then-teen Andrew Lawrence to create the annual Rockathon, a teen battle of the bands event that draws hundreds of fans each year.

“He has created successful programs like Rockathon that have engaged teens in our community to showcase their talents,” Ken Wong, the City of Redmond Teen and 50-plus programs administrator.

As program coordinator of the teen center, Cullen worked hard to help cultivate community partnerships with other organizations such as the Lake Washington School District and Redmond Police Department to help make the teen center a cutting-edge facility with educational and social programs for teens.

Cullen said he is honored to have worked for a city that invests in its youth and has received national recognition for its youth programs. The city was recognized as one of America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People in 2011.

Cullen said other cities from around the nation have used Redmond as a model for its youth programs.

“This is a great place,” Cullen said of Redmond. “It’s the leader in technology and also the leader in teen services and a lot of community-good programs.”

In particular, Cullen said the teen center, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in September, has provided “a voice” and “an opportunity to shine” for teens in Redmond and the Eastside.

Cullen’s tenure as program coordinator is his second stint working for the Fire House. He worked for the teen center as the recreation leader back in 1992 — its inaugural year — before returning in 2005 as program coordinator.

In addition, Cullen helped start up the Ground Zero Teen Center in Bellevue in 1993. After seven years working for Bellevue, Cullen got a job at Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle as educational project manager. He helped guide many programs and events at EMP and met many famous musical artists, including members of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Beck, James Taylor and Ice T.

After a three-year stint at EMP, Cullen helped open up what is now Showbox SoDo, a musical venue in Seattle.

But when he saw an opening in Redmond for the program coordinator at the teen center in 2005, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I missed working with kids and I heard about a job opening here so I applied for it,” he said.

Now seven years later, Cullen is starting a new chapter in his life as he will move to Rochester, New York to be with his wife, Karen Mahardy, a glass sculptor who is finishing her graduate studies at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“It’s time for a change,” Cullen said of his decision to leave Redmond. “Obviously, I miss my wife and that played a factor in my decision. I want to go there and support her. She is an amazing glass sculptor.”

Cullen said he is proud to be part of the teen center’s history and said the decision to leave was hard.

“I wouldn’t exchange any of the experiences I’ve had,” he said. “My career over the last 20 years really started at the Fire House. I am honored to be part of its history.”

Wong said there is no set timeline for Cullen’s replacement as the teen center will continue to offer innovative, educational programs for teens.

“We have an opportunity to re-evaluate that position and bring in some new energy with new ideas,” Wong said. “What we always try to strive for is staying as current to the trends or just ahead of trends as we can so we will be looking for a person with that energy and insight.”