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Services for seniors on Camano began long before Camano Senior Services Association (CSSA) was formed.
In the fall of 1972, the problem of services for the seniors of Camano Island became acute. At that time, the Camwood Senior Center (now known as the Stanwood Senior Center) was organized for Camano and Stanwood seniors. Few services were available; in fact the nearest meal site was in Arlington. Many Camano seniors objected to the long trip to take advantage of the Nutrition Program and other services. Snohomish County and Island County Commissioners endeavored to pool their efforts to help solve this problem. A grant was written and, in January of 1973, Senior Services of Island County (SSIC) began providing the Nutrition Program at Camwood. The meals were prepared at the Camano Inn located on SR 532 on Camano (later known as the Shipwreck Bar and Grill, which has since been torn down). Meals were delivered (by the former Director and volunteers) to the Camwood Senior Center and the Camano City Fire Hall on Wednesdays, to the Camano Country Club Fire Station and Camano Lutheran Church on Tuesdays and the Utsalady Ladies Aid Hall on Thursdays.
After a year the center of operation for the Nutrition Program was moved to Camano Island, leaving Camwood to work things out on their own with Senior Services of Snohomish County. Catered meals continued to be served at the Camano Lutheran Church, the Camano City Fire Hall and the Utsalady Ladies Aid Hall.
For a short time SSIC services could be accessed from a small office at the current Second Chance Thrift Shop site. In the spring of 1974, Senior Information and Assistance (senior social worker) was available from a desk rented at the Camano Plaza. The Nutrition Program also rented a freezer there to store Meals-on-Wheels food.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Art Hatton, Eleanor Fortson, and C.M. Kertson began raising the matching funds required by State Referendum 29 grant funds for the purpose of building a senior center on Camano Island. Midway through their fundraising efforts it was discovered that a 50% match was required for funding of a senior center, while only 25% was required for a multi-purpose center. A 50% match could not be raised at that time. Island County donated the land where the current Camano Multi-purpose Center (A.K.A. Camano Center) is located, which completed the 25% match. Referendum 29 funds specified that the building be used as a delivery point for health and human services for a period of 25 years. Referendum 29 funds were used to help construct the metal shell of the building, including cement pad, roof, some electrical, etc. The seniors raised the funds to finish the building including interior walls, carpet, dropped ceilings, paint, etc. The 3,000 square foot building was ready for use in 1978 and although the size of the building was inadequate and it wasn't a senior center, Camano seniors were happy to have a home three days a week.
A Board of Managers, working under the SSIC umbrella, operated the Camano Center. As participation and interest in senior services on Camano grew, so did the desire for more local control. Camano Senior Services Association (CSSA) was formed and incorporated on April 15, 1982 for the purpose of providing social, economic, educational, recreational and other activities for the benefit of retired persons residing on Camano Island. Harold Vaara, who passed away in 2002, served as the organization's first Board President.
Today CSSA contracts with Senior Services of Island County to provide the Nutrition Program, Senior Information and Assistance/ Case Management, and the Volunteer Chore Program at an annual cost of $22,064 (2008).
In 1983 CSSA entered into a contract with Island County to manage the Camano Center. CSSA was responsible for all the costs of operating the Center, including insurance, electrical, disposal, custodial, maintenance and repairs. In return the organization could retain all rental income. Each year, operating costs far exceeded rental income.
CSSA was self-supporting up until 1997 when the organization began to receive some program support from Island County (averaging 10% of total income). The organization is still dependent on continuing fundraising efforts.
In the never-ending struggle to raise funds and thanks to the dedication of then Director Helen Roeder, volunteers Margaret Allen, Ann Bashforth, Harold & Evelyn Vaara, Henry & Jo Rumsey, Lu Steward and Bud & Evelyn Wagner, the Second Chance Thrift Shop opened in the summer of 1982. The first thrift shop was located in the current Stanwood-Camano Yacht Club building in the Madrona Beach neighborhood. In the early years, the volunteers would purchase something every day, just so they could show sales. In 1985, the shop moved to its current site on Highway 532. The Association rented that site for several years, purchasing it in November, 1988. In April of 1994, CSSA purchased a lot that adjoins the eastern border of the Thrift Shop property for future expansion.
In the spring of 1989, Executive Director, Helen Roeder retired and Executive Director, Marla Ries was hired as her replacement. At that same time the Center moved from a three days a week operation to a busy five days a week operation.
The mission of CSSA is to provide programs, services and activities for the seniors of Camano Island in order to support their quality of life and encourage and provide for individual and community growth. Knowing that seniors live longer more satisfying lives in their own homes for far less money, CSSA promotes the adage, "There's no place like home". Programs, services and activities are designed to promote that concept. According to the 2000 U.S. Census which records the 55 plus population, 21% of Island County residents were in this category, while Camano Island's over 55 population represented 31.2% of its population. As a retirement destination, the population of Camano Island has grown 80% from 1990 - 2000. "There's no place like home" becomes a challenge when working with a significantly increasing number of older adults.
As far back as 1987, efforts had been made to address the space problem at the Center. In July 1987, the Island County Commissioners appointed a committee of Camano citizens and others to study the problem. In 1988, $1,000 was raised privately to retain an architect to assist in planning an expansion. At that time, a theater group, an arts group and district court approached the committee about incorporating space for their programs. Results of this study were then translated into four alternatives regarding the center which included the following: (1) construct a new, enhanced center at a new location; (2) construct a new, enhanced center at the existing site; (3) remodel the existing center; or (4) do nothing. The committee recommended the construction of a new center at a new location.
Between 1989 and 1994, efforts continued but became fragmented. It became apparent that an arts center, senior center and general community center combination would be too costly and unmanageable. Efforts on the part of citizens diminished over time.
Then, in July of 1994, CSSA approached the County regarding improvements and expansion of the Camano Center. The County and CSSA determined that improvements and expansion were necessary to improve the services delivered to senior citizens. As estimated costs of improvements and expansion increased and approached $400,000, CSSA no longer wanted to incur the cost of improving the center without having ownership of the facility.
CSSA asked the County to release the facility to them. Investigation of this request revealed that such a release would require legislative action because the existing building was owned by the County and was built with Referendum 29 funds. Legislation was introduced in Olympia during the 1996 session, but the measure failed.
CSSA found and purchased a site for a senior center in April of 1997. The 18.2 acre parcel is located at the north end of the Island, situated between Arrowhead Road and East Camano Drive. In June of 1999 the organization sold 13 acres of the property to the Stanwood-Camano School District for the construction of an elementary school, which opened in the fall of the year 2000.
The construction of the new Camano Senior and Community Center began in September of 2000 with a heavy local influence. The building design was developed by the Stanwood architectural firm of Designs NW, was built by local contractor Jerry Heichel and the majority of the sub-contractors were all local.
Center staff and volunteers began moving into the new Center on Friday, September 7th, 2001 (the same day the carpet was being installed), and on Monday, September 10th, 218 people were served baked salmon, the first meal at the new Center.
Membership and participation has grown dramatically since moving into the new facility, as have the number and variety of programs, classes and activities.
A 1989 strategic planning session of the CSSA Board of Director's called for completion of an independent senior center by the year 2005. As with most goals set by the organization, this long range goal was accomplished early and it took a community to make it all happen.
In October of 2004, Marla Ries resigned and Laurie Miller was hired as the new Executive Director. Laurie began adding more social events including a monthly movie night and social dances one time each month. In addition, the Center has been graced with many new presentations and special speakers. These presentations cover health, safety and education. Laurie Miller resigned in February of 2007.
Karla Jacks was hired as the new Executive Director in April 2007. 2007 and 2008 saw the demand build for more classes, activities, and programs. In January 2008, the Center's operating hours were increased in order to meet the space demands on the building, staying open until 8 pm (Mon - Thur) during the week. The Center also began emphasizing community classes and programs. Free wireless internet service became available for members and users of the Center.
The Center continues to depend on fundraising for about 95% of its operating income. The Center now rents it's facility for weddings, anniversaries, celebrations of life, birthday parties, and other charitable events. What will the next 20 years bring?