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Bringing a Senior Center “Without Walls” to Lake City

Walking group

Lake City is a vibrant and growing multi-cultural neighborhood in northeast Seattle. Historically underserved, Lake City’s population and diversity of the neighborhood has increased in recent years. Community members and service providers have found ways to bring more resources, new opportunities, and greater community connection.

A huge resource that is missing in this neighborhood—and northeast Seattle—is a senior center. Nineteen percent of the population of Lake City is 65 years or older (significantly higher than the national average of 14.5 percent). There is a real need for free and low-cost meals, services, and programming for older adults and people with disabilities in the area.

Realizing that creating a dedicated senior center building in Lake City may be years in the making, community members advocated for City of Seattle investment in a “senior center without walls.” The model could bring services to the area sooner by programming other locations in the community.

This effort was successful. In October 2015, Sound Generations (formerly Senior Services) began meeting with service providers and residents in Lake City to identify the needs and strengths of the community and create a road map for this exciting project.

LCC class

Community partners

If you want to create a brand new senior center model, the first thing you need are community partners. Luckily, Lake City is full of engaged and creative service providers, business owners, and energized residents who are committed to developing spaces for older adults to thrive and connect.

Hunger Intervention Program, a local organization dedicated to increasing food security in North King County, already offered a delicious and popular community senior lunch at the Lake City Community Center. They were excited to include other opportunities for seniors. Sea Mar Community Health Centers was interested in establishing a Latino Senior Program in the north end of King County for Spanish-speaking older adults.

Working with the North Seattle Chamber of Commerce (who manages the community center), Hunger Intervention Program, Sea Mar, and Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Lifelong Recreation Program, Sound Generations launched “Senior Days” on Mondays and Wednesdays (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) at the Lake City Community Center. These started in January 2016.

LCC meal

Community ownership

The outpouring of interest and support from the Lake City community has been incredible. While it started small, with social work and educational presentations, Senior Days has grown into a rich calendar of programs offered almost entirely by organizations and residents who volunteer their talents and energies.

On a typical Monday or Wednesday, 60 to 100 people come to the community center to enjoy a delicious lunch, converse in English and Spanish, and participate in a range of activities. Two Dog Yoga offers a free bilingual (English and Spanish) gentle chair yoga class; Literacy Source offers a free English as a Second Language class; Lifetime Learning Center brought their summer program to the community center; Neighborcare offers blood pressure and glucose screenings; and the Lake City Library comes twice a month to share books and resources.

In addition to local businesses and organizations, residents step up every day to volunteer their skills and further expand what is possible. A retired professor from Argentina interprets English into Spanish for the yoga class; an all-star Sound Steps volunteer leads a weekly gentle warm-up exercise and neighborhood walk (she and the group even brave the lack of sidewalks in most of Lake City); a variety of folks teach and share arts and crafts projects; and there is a dedicated volunteer-led Bingo group, where everyone pitches in to bring prizes.

The community expressed strong desire for a Spanish conversation class and a volunteer came forward to teach it. Combining the Spanish and English conversation classes opened encouraged cross-cultural communication and friendships that reverberate through the center. This year’s Dia de los Muertos celebration helped English-speaking residents learn about the holiday for the first time.

LCC project

Community connections

Lake City Senior Days promotes inclusivity and openness. A new peer support group called “Connections” embodies that spirit. Enhance Fitness participants started the class. A social worker co-facilitates gatherings in which people share their stories, listen to one another, become more self-aware, and grow in understanding of the world around them.

Next steps

The community members that advocated for senior services in Lake City were right—there is a strong need and desire for more programming for older adults and people with disabilities in this neighborhood. Sound Generations and community partners will develop new opportunities for free and low-cost services and activities, especially for individuals who do not participate in Lake City Community Center programs. This means working with senior living facilities to bring services to those who are unable to get to the center and looking for opportunities to expand multi-lingual and multi-cultural programming to meet the needs of this diverse community.

We will also continue to look for ways to collaborate with the wonderful organizations and community groups that work with youth and families and local businesses in Lake City—especially ways that bring people together for connection and fun. One example is Lake City’s first World Dance Party, which occurred last month at the Meadowbrook Community Center. “Show Up, Get Down!” What’s not to love about that?

Contributor Claudine Wallace is the Lake City Senior Center program manager. She welcomes your ideas for activities, services, and intergenerational community events in Lake City. Contact Claudine at 206-268-6738 or claudinew@soundgenerations.org. For more information, visit www.lakecityseniors.org.

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