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Senior Center to become park district program

The Vashon Senior Center has decided to become an affiliate of the Vashon Park District, a move both entities say will enhance programs and opportunities for Island seniors.

The two organizations have signed a memorandum of understanding setting up the new arrangement, which makes the senior center one of the park district’s programs while enabling it to retain considerable autonomy.

Under the terms of the agreement, effective Jan. 1, the park district will handle much of the senior center’s administrative needs — from managing its payroll to obtaining its insurance — and the senior center’s two staff will now be park district employees, said Mike Collins, a park district commissioner.

But the senior center will continue to be an independent nonprofit and raise the money to run its programs, including the funds to pay its employees. It will also continue to receive funding from King County, which recently awarded the small center on Bank Road a $50,000 grant, a significant part of its $153,000 operating budget, said Betty Beymer, the senior center’s chair.

“We’ll still be an independent center, but we’ll have a lot of pluses by working with the park district,” Beymer said.

Beymer and other board members, however, worry that news of their move to the park district will make people think they no longer need to support the small, local agency, which has a membership roster of 380.

“We’ll still have to raise our own money to run the senior center,” Beymer said. “It’s really important that people know that.”

Since it opened in 1981, the Vashon Senior Center has been under the auspices of Senior Services, a Seattle-based nonprofit and the largest in the state serving seniors. But the Vashon center sometimes chafed under Senior Services, in part because the Seattle-based agency hired the center’s director, required the director to come to Seattle periodically for meetings and, perhaps most significantly, charged the center 13 percent for administering any of the grants that passed through Senior Services to the Vashon center.

Under the new arrangement, the park district won’t charge the senior center the costs of handling its payroll or other administrative support it provides, Beymer said. It will only charge the senior center for any direct services it offers up, such as any maintenance work it might do on the senior center’s small brick building, she said.

“We’re very happy to be independent of Seattle and to be running our own center the Vashon Island way, with Vashon Island values and Vashon Island people,” said Deirdre Petree, a senior center board member.

“The key to this deal is that we know each other and trust each other,” she added. “We’re Vashon people, and we know our needs.”

The park district, for its part, will be able to offer joint programs to seniors, working directly with the senior center to reach a demographic the park district “hasn’t really served,” said Collins said. It also opens up other possibilities, such as cooking classes using the senior center’s kitchen, he said.

“For us, it’s adding another dimension; it broadens our demographics,” Collins said.

And if there’s a problem, he said, board members or staff won’t need to go to Seattle to address it or vie for attention from Senior Services, which has several senior centers under its auspices.

“If they have an issue, all they have to do is come to a board meeting and discuss it,” Collins said.

The senior center’s board has been discussing such a move for about a year, said Ted Walgren, the senior center’s treasurer. Board members have taken field trips to other senior centers that have become a part of either their park district or some other local governmental entity, he said; they’ve also met a few times with park district staff and board members to discuss the possibility.

“We’re not going in completely blind,” Walgren said.

Denise Klein, the executive director of Senior Services, said she supports the move as well.

“You know the concept that all politics are local. Well, all senior centers are local, too,” she said. “They need that strong, local support. ... I believe the park district can offer them what they need.”

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