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Social services organizations to staff office in town

Beginning next Tuesday, islanders can get help accessing a full slate of social services at a new office in Vashon town.

The Orientation, Assistance, Support & Information Station (OASIS) will be open three days a week at the Vashon Senior Center. A project of Vashon’s Social Services Network, it will be staffed by volunteers who will help islanders navigate various programs and services provided by Vashon nonprofits as well as state, county and federal agencies, said Chris Szala, director of Vashon HouseHold.

Vashon HouseHold, one of several nonprofits involved in the Social Services Network, secured $14,000 in annual funding for the office through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“There’s never been a single place to go,” Szala said. “It seems like it would be very user friendly for a lot of people.”

Szala said trained volunteers from the Social Services Network — which also includes Vashon Youth & Family Services, Vashon Community Care, the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness, the food bank, Seeds 4 Success, DoVE and the senior center — will answer phone calls and meet with visitors to discuss their needs, help them understand their options and assist in any application process. Computers will also be available at the office for people to do research, download forms and submit online applications.

Emma Amiad, with IFCH, said several surveys have shown there’s a need on Vashon for such a one-stop center for social services information. Oftentimes, she said, those in need of help find themselves calling and visiting multiple offices, and they still may not be connected with the right organizations or programs in the end.

“We all talk to people who have lived here for years who didn’t know we had certain services available,” Amiad said. “There are so many services here, but if folks don’t know how to connect with them, what good does it do?”

If the office becomes well used, Szala said, the network may expand its hours. The group also plans to begin offering classes at the senior center based on community needs. Free classes, for instance, could teach seniors how to use computers or walk people through the home buying process.

“It depends on what comes up, what we’re seeing people wanting, and we’ll tailor classes to that,” he said.

Initial funding from HUD will pay for office rent, help purchase new computers and a television and possibly provide a small stipend for class teachers. Szala said the group originally hoped to hire someone to staff the office, but didn’t get enough HUD funding to do so.

“I really hope this is the beginning of something more,” he said. “More integration of all of us together can only benefit the community in the long run.”

The Orientation, Assistance, Support & Information Station (OASIS) will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, beginning Tuesday, June 11, at the Vashon Senior Center on Bank Road. Hours may expand in the future. The office can also be reached at 567-9794.

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