By The Herald Editorial Board
It can be difficult to keep a lid on information, especially when it’s good news.
Brian Smith, chief operating officer for Volunteers of America-Western Washington, said the nonprofit service organization’s president and CEO, Steve Corsi, recently was on a return trip from a national conference in the Midwest when he began talking with a couple seated next to him on the plane.
“He got to talking to the couple on his way back to Seattle, and they knew about the VOA and somehow had found out VOA was in discussions to take over the Carl Gipson Senior Center,” said Smith.
Since early in the pandemic, the Everett senior center had closed its doors to the community’s seniors, suspending almost all programs that more than 1,000 seniors had come to depend upon. Except for a daily pickup meal service that Homage Senior Services continues to offer, the center has remained closed since March 2020. The closure of the senior center was a significant loss for those who came to the downtown facility for meals; exercise, arts and hobby programs; and coffee, cards and conversation, interaction that is vital to the physical and mental health of Everett’s seniors.
While the pandemic was the immediate motivation for the center’s closure; the city — even before the pandemic — faced a lingering structural budget deficit that continues to force discussions on the programs and services that the city’s revenues can support. The Carl Gipson Senior Center was closed, with no certainty as to when — or if — it would reopen.
So, even before the ink was dry on an agreement between the City of Everett and the faith-based nonprofit service organization to reopen and operate the senior center, the VOA was hearing “excitement coming from the Midwest all the way back to Seattle,” Smith said.
“We heard an overwhelming level of support and excitement from the senior community for seeing a return to so much life that was lived there,” he said Monday in an interview.
The VOA’s interest in running the Everett senior center developed soon after the pandemic forced the closure of the Sky Valley Senior and Community Center that VOA runs in Sultan for east county residents, Smith said. The loss of such services would be as keen for Everett seniors as for those in Sultan.
“We were acutely aware of the impact to our niche,” Smith said, “and being such a central presence in central Snohomish County and Everett, we knew the effects that the closure of the Carl Gipson Senior Center would be that much larger for some 1,400 seniors.”
“We have a long history of serving Snohomish County at large and felt this fell in line with our mission of support for the most vulnerable in the county,” he said.
While the VOA will run Carl Gipson center, the city remains a partner. It will retain ownership of the building and responsibility for major maintenance, and it will provide funding, a total of $1.8 million over the next seven years, allowing the VOA time to establish sustainable long-term funding through its donors, grant programs and other sources.
The center’s reopening will be gradual and will depend on precautions necessary to protect seniors and others as the pandemic lingers. But plans already are being made to launch remote programs — don your sweatpants for Zoom yoga and Tai chi — this fall, Smith said, to reengage the center’s patrons as it prepares for a physical reopening of the facility next year.
And while patrons can expect a return of favorite activities, the nonprofit is eager to take suggestions for new programs and services as well as partnerships with community groups.
The city and the VOA’s leadership also are talking about partnership opportunities for non-peak hours, said Cory Armstrong-Hoss, director of communications and marketing for the VOA.
“It’s cool to think about possibilities,” Armstrong-Hoss said, which could include programs at the handicapped-accessible facility for those with physical and developmental disabilities.
Programs also could be added to pair the VOA’s early childhood education and youth programs with seniors, Smith said, noting the host of studies that show the benefits of such engagements between kids and seniors.
The agreement between the VOA and the city represents another transfer of a service or program that was once the city’s — and its taxpayers’ — responsibility to partnerships with nonprofits and other government agencies as the city seeks to better balance revenue and expenses and concentrate on its essential services, while assuring that past programs continue under new and trusted stewards such as the VOA.
That eventual transfer from the city to a nonprofit also represents a transfer — but in name only — from taxpayers to community members, as the VOA seeks the financial and volunteer support of Everett residents to sustain and expand on the services available at the Carl Gipson Senior Center.
That responsibility for support shifts, but only from one’s tax statement to one’s charity.
“We want to make sure that come the other side of this pandemic — which will happen at some point — that the center has returned to operation and we have the support of the community,” Smith said.
Volunteers of America
For information about the Volunteers of America-Western Washington and how to donate to support its programs go to voaww.org.