Rick Steves pledges $2 million for new community services center

LYNNWOOD — The goal of building a new $10 million facility for Volunteers of America and the Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County to provide a variety of community services got a big boost Wednesday — a $2 million pledge from Rick Steves, who operates an Edmonds travel business.

The kickoff of plans for the new 40,000-square-foot Community Neighborhood Center, as well as the fund drive needed to construct it, were announced during the Volunteers of America’s Inspire Hope Luncheon at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

Steves’ pledge “was the lead gift to start the campaign to raise the money,” said Bill Tsoukalas, executive director of the Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County.

Key to the plans for the new community center was the decision by Trinity Lutheran Church to approve a 50-year lease of approximately three acres of its property for construction of the building. Steves is a member of the church.

The property is located near the intersection of Highway 99 and 196th Street SW in Lynnwood. “It’s a prime spot,” said Phil Smith, chief executive of Volunteers of America Western Washington, near one of the busiest intersections in the state and a quarter mile from Edmonds Community College. “The church made a tremendous gift” with the land, valued at $1.5 million, he said.

More formal plans for the community center will be developed over the next three to four months, Smith said. There will be space in the building for other community organizations, too, he said.

Volunteers of America plans to focus on outreach and services to seniors and caregivers, he said. The demographics in south Snohomish County are changing, with trends such as an aging population that’s growing, more ethnic diversity and greater income inequality, he said.

The community center will be designed to help people through these changes, he said. Seniors who don’t have family nearby can get assistance in finding needed services. And adult children who are trying to care for their parents as well as their own children, often feeling torn by conflicting emotional responsibilities, can learn skills to help them cope, Smith said.

“It’s one-stop shopping for the community — kids, adults, seniors, they can all come,” Tsoukalas said.

“It will be a safe place with the kinds of activities we do in all our facilities, whether it’s education, the arts, recreations, food or sports,” Tsoukalas said. Adults can come for exercise and to get help from Volunteers of America services, which include counseling and housing services, he said.

The Boys &Girls Club facility being planned in Lynnwood will join other south county clubs, including those in Edmonds and in Alderwood. The organization serves about 20,000 school-aged children in Snohomish County at 15 clubs.

“We have facilities in all kinds of neighborhoods,” Tsoukalas said. “Kids are kids. There are cultural and ethnic and language differences, but when they’re under that roof they need to get along together. We have very few problems.”

Once complete, the Lynnwood building will be the second location where Volunteers of American and the Boys &Girls Clubs have joined together under one roof. The first was in Sultan, following the fire at the Boys &Girls Club building on Christmas Eve in 2010.

Three days later, the organization was operating out of Volunteers of America facilities in Sultan “so the kids didn’t miss a beat,” Tsoukalas said. The new Sultan Boys &Girls Clubs building opened in May.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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