Senior Center’s annual meeting takes place in wake of director’s resignation

After its director resigns, Senior Center holds meeting

More than 200 islanders attended the annual membership meeting of Vashon Senior Center on Friday, Nov. 4, held at St. John Vianney Church’s social hall — a gathering that included updates on many important senior center programs centered on service to Vashon’s vibrant community of elders.

However, the meeting also included discussion by both attendees as well as staff and board members about staffing changes that have taken place over the past 10 months at the Center — including news of the resignation, for health reasons, of Catherine Swearingen, the organization’s executive director, which was announced by the board in an email to members and the community on Oct. 31.

The email expressed the board’s gratitude to Swearingen — sentiments repeated at the meeting by board president Tara Morgan — saying that the former director had served the Senior Center “tirelessly, faithfully, and enthusiastically” for four and a half years, and that her accomplishments included developing the delivery of strong programs to island seniors throughout the pandemic.

The email further lauded Swearingen for her “strong connections with King County, one of the Center’s largest contributors, and with the many foundations who support the Center each year,” and said that Swearingen had left the Center in good financial health.

The Nov. 4 meeting opened with another statement by Morgan, addressing other staff, board and volunteer departures from the Senior Center which have taken place over the past 10 months — a situation also mentioned in a half-page ad that appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of The Beachcomber, prior to Swearingen’s resignation.

The ad, which specified that it had been paid for by “Friends of the Vashon Senior Center,” detailed that since February, “one staff member had been fired and five more have left” and “four board members have left.”

The ad invited members to attend the Nov. 4 meeting and “be a part of the discussion about the future of our Senior Center.”

In Morgan’s introduction to the meeting, she discussed the departures and the hiring of new staff members, and also apologized for those who had been hurt in the wake of the departures.

“We weren’t prepared for what came our way, and we deeply regret that we could’ve done a better job of attending to their concerns in a more urgent and responsive way, Morgan said. “We are learning from our mistakes and we are committed to making sure it never happens again.”

The meeting that followed, after this announcement, included reports by staff and board members, but also a discussion of two motions raised by members at the meeting.

The first motion, by Hilary Emmer, asked that the Senior Center’s ballot for its upcoming election of new board members, on Nov. 11, be voided and that an extra time period be allowed for new candidates to declare their candidacies if they so desired.

After a spirited discussion, Emmer withdrew her motion, after a current board member provided information that such a change in the election would necessitate a change in the organization’s bylaw.

Another motion, made by member Julia Lakey, passed — requiring that an outside financial audit of the organization’s expenses and income by program, for 2021 and 2022, be completed by March of 2023 and that the results of the audit would be made public to the members.

Editor’s note: The Beachcomber’s reporting on the Senior Center’s membership meeting, as well as its staffing and board changes in 2022, will continue in coming editions.

Correction: An earlier version of this article, in both the Nov. 10 print edition of The Beachcomber and online, said that an ad in The Beachcomber was paid for by “Friends of the Vashon Center.” The ad was paid for by “Friends of the Vashon Senior Center,” as noted in this updated online version.