Community

Vashon Senior Center: Supporting the Island’s senior citizens

Francis Eikenberry, 97, celebrated Mary Lou Hillendahl’s life at the senior center last August. The center had planned a luau for the day, and Hillendahl, who was a regular at the center since it began, died the week before. When staff at the center learned her memorial service was scheduled for the same day, they turned the ordinary luau into a Mary Luau, in honor of her colorful, vibrant personality. - Courtesy Photo
Francis Eikenberry, 97, celebrated Mary Lou Hillendahl’s life at the senior center last August. The center had planned a luau for the day, and Hillendahl, who was a regular at the center since it began, died the week before. When staff at the center learned her memorial service was scheduled for the same day, they turned the ordinary luau into a Mary Luau, in honor of her colorful, vibrant personality.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Who they are:Vashon Maury Senior Center

What they do: Provides programs and services to seniors and their families

Whom to call:Willow Eaton, director, at 463-5173

What's the story: For more than 20 years, Island seniors have gone to the senior center for classes, a hot lunch, various health care needs and a good game of cards. But these days, the offerings at the small brick building near the heart of town have multiplied several times over, and the focus is on camaraderie and fun.

“We see aging differently,” said Willow Eaton, the center’s director, invoking the center’s motto.

Indeed, with frequent field trips, weekly guest chefs and an abundance of offerings — ballroom dancing lessons, writing lessons, painting lessons, sculpting lessons, wine tastings, community speakers, movies and author visits — there is something for everyone.

“We’re not just about playing cards,” Eaton said. “We’re about learning and growing and being excited about life.”

Senior center member Carolyn Sepulveda moved back to Vashon two years ago after having lived off-Island for 35 years. Her daughter suggested that she go to the senior center to meet people and become more connected to the community again.

“This has made a whole difference in my attitude, my life,” she said. Before, she just wanted to sleep, but now every day she comes to the center for lunch and a game of Hand and Foot, a popular card game. She also enjoys the field trips.

“Everyone is so nice,” she said. “You always feel welcome.”

Last year, the senior center became a Vashon Park District program, after roughly 20 years with Senior Services of Seattle.

The working relationship with the park district has been “very pleasant,” Eaton said.

The center’s staff is small — only four people — and each works part time, meaning there is plenty of work for volunteers: weeding, sweeping, cleaning, helping with simple administrative tasks, or, even better, serving as a guest chef in the center’s popular Friday Guest Chef series.

In addition to looking to the community for volunteer support, the center also looks to the community for financial support.

“We always have the financial challenges,” Eaton said. King County, which has provided roughly one-quarter of the center’s funding, has approved funding for next year, but the amount that will go to the senior center is roughly half of what it has been in the past.

“It’s a big cut for us,” Eaton said.

The center will soon be mailing an appeal letter to everyone on the Island and will host an auction dinner in February. This past year, the center staffed a pesto-salmon sandwich booth at the Strawberry Festival as a fundraiser. It was very successful, she said, and they plan to do it again next summer.

Financial challenges aside, Eaton is looking forward, expecting 2010 to be “another great year with more activities and a lot more fun events.”

Outside Eaton’s tiny office, the center was a hub of activity last week. Islander Janie Starr, coordinator of the Climate Project, had just left after speaking to a group on environmental topics; a writing group was under way, and Luella Lodahl, 92, and Lorraine Oliver, 87, who have been regular attendees at the center since it opened, were playing cards with a woman visiting from California, who had found a home away from home at the center.

“It’s like family, as far as I’m concerned,” Lodahl said.

“It keeps you going,” Oliver added.

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