The rhythmic pounding of drums accompanied Beach Boys songs at Willow Place on a recent Thursday afternoon, and beaming faces around the Drumming Circle signaled the joy that went along with the raucous activity.
Willow Place is run by Quilceda Community Services, a local non-profit organization that focuses on the needs of developmentally disabled adults. QCS owns and administers Marysville Quilceda Meadows, an apartment complex that houses eighteen residents, and last fall the organization implemented a unique program to provide "ability-appropriate activities" at its headquarters at 1402 State Street.
"Willow Place works with adults who have diverse levels of abilities," said Karen Harper, QCS board president. "Without this program, our clients would probably spend all day watching TV. When they come to our daily sessions, they get exercise and social interaction, and they have lots of fun."
The three-hour sessions, which are limited to 15 participants each, start with an hour of exercise which can include aerobics, stretching, dancing or other group games. The second hour is typically spent in an arts and crafts activity, followed by an hour of music, games or puzzles.
That third hour now includes a Drumming Circle every Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, thanks to a generous grant from the Tulalip Tribes Charitable Fund.
"We're so grateful for the funds provided by the Tulalip Tribes," said Harper, "and when we went to Bigfoot Music in Arlington to buy the drums, they sold the instruments to us at their cost, which allowed us to stretch the dollars even further."
At Bigfoot Music, Harper and her mother Hazel Venables, who was one of the founders of QCS, met drum teacher Erick Brewer. When Brewer learned about the Drumming Circle program, he agreed to lead the group for two sessions each week starting in January.
"This is a lot of fun," said Brewer as he was helping students set up their drums for the afternoon circle. "Everyone is loving it, and they take it very seriously."
The directors of Quilceda Community Services take their mission seriously as well. Those serving on the non-profit Board of Directors along with Karen Harper are Sally Brandenburger, Stacey King, Cindy Kinney, Kathy Liming, Karen Majkut, Tina Norsworthy, Patti Roodzant and Rosemary Struiksma.
"We're actively looking for property to buy, where we can build a facility that will serve as a proper activity center for disabled adults," explained Venables. The current location, built as a private residence, is carved into a series of small rooms that are not conducive to group activities.
Although she no longer serves on the QCS board of directors, Venables continues to be an effective champion for the special needs population. Her daughter Leslie was a special needs child, and in the 1940s there were few services available for families faced with a child's diagnosis of mental disability.
Hillary Nettles, the center's activity director, also has a personal investment in serving developmentally disabled adults--her brother was born with Down's Syndrome. Nettles earned her elementary education degree with a certificate in special education, and has worked at Willow Place since its opening in September 2008.
"Programs like this really fill a vital need," said Nettles. "It helps these adults become more social, and allows them to connect with others."
As popular as the Drumming Circle has become, QCS is still in need of additional resources. The organization actively seeks grants, but also depends on private donations to continue its operation.
"We'd love to find a volunteer who would teach Hillary how to use an enamelware kiln that was donated to us," said Venables. "Then we could teach jewelry-making classes."
They'd also welcome artists who would be willing to teach painting, crocheting or knitting classes, as well as donations of craft supplies.
"People want to help," Venables observed, "and this is a great opportunity to be involved in a really satisfying way."
To find out more about Quilceda Community Services, phone (360) 653-2324.