Senior center chooses new director

Catherine Swearingen (courtesy photo)

Catherine Swearingen (courtesy photo)

After a search that drew 21 applicants and included a rigorous selection process, the Vashon Senior Center board has chosen Catherine Swearingen to be the center’s new executive director.

Center board member Susie Kalhourn said that a selection committee of seven narrowed the applicant pool down to five. Those five were interviewed by the entire 11-member board.

“Once we’d finished, it was unanimous,” Kalhourn said. “Every single member ranked Catherine as their top choice.”

What really pushed Swearingen to the top of the list was her obvious desire for the position.

“It was very clear that Catherine really wanted this job,” Kalhourn said. “That swayed the committee as well.”

Originally from South Carolina, Swearingen moved from Colorado to Vashon in 2014 with her husband, to lead the career counseling department at Pacific Lutheran University.

“I found though, that after a while, the commute made it feel like I didn’t know anyone on the island,” she said. “It felt like all I was doing was getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed.”

So eventually, she stepped down from the position at PLU and decided to “get involved” on the island. This included a spot on the board of Hestia Retreat and walking dogs for and then serving on the board of Vashon Island Pet Protectors.

Her nonprofit experience includes serving as the director of the Sewanee, Tennessee, Community Action Committee and volunteering at Blue Monarch Women’s Shelter in Middle Tennessee; the Safe Exchange Program for Children in Boulder, Colorado; the YWCA of Boulder County and the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado.

But it was her father’s experiences with a senior center in his twilight years that ultimately motivated her to go after this position.

“The work of the Vashon Senior Center speaks to my heart,” she said in a press release on the senior center’s Facebook page. “My father was an active participant at the senior citizen center in the small town where he lived. I know what a difference that organization made to him socially, emotionally, nutritionally and physically. The chance to provide that same level of care and support to older adults on Vashon is an honor.”

Swearingen had high praise for the current state of the center, specifically acknowledging the volunteers and programs in place, and added that this was like “stepping into a dream job.”

Kalhourn summed up the board’s choice.

“We are really excited to get someone in place, in such an important role, and look forward to keeping the center a vital part of the community,” she said. “Catherine can do that. She’s ready to roll.”

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