The Stillaguamish Senior Center will celebrate its 50th year of providing a community for local seniors by heading into the future with a new name: the Stilly Valley Center.
The center was first imagined in 1960 when commissioners of the local hospital district saw a need to create a place for senior citizens in the community, according to Danette Klemens, the current director of the organization.
Groups began meeting in the early 70s and incorporated originally as the Stillaguamish Center.
They originally gathered at public meeting halls such as Pioneer Hall but the organization looked for a permanent location.
In the summer of 1972 the organization secured a $55,000 loan and purchased the Fir Crest Motel property in Smokey Point.
The motel units were remodeled into senior housing, while fundraising and volunteer labor helped construct what is now the main hall for the center.
More low-income senior housing was built for the center in 1989, 1992 and 2006 to bring it up to a total of 154 apartments.
“It’s pretty phenomenal,” said Klemens. “We’ve been able to be an important part of the community for so many seniors."
The biggest priority for the center has always been providing community and social connection.
“You become more isolated, especially as you lose those family connections as they go to the workforce,” said Klemens. “It’s just so integral as they lose those connections with the aging process to have somewhere to go,"
Having a community to continue with is important, especially for those who may lose or have already lost a long-time spouse, she said.
“It helps them find some support, especially as they have to deal with events like the loss of a spouse. It’s so useful to have that network of support,” said Klemens.
The center has also promoted continued learning and education through games, art activities and classes.
Programs like the medical supply loan program or the center’s caregiver program also provide support to local seniors and caregivers in need, even if they don’t live on the premises.
This last year has been a challenge for the center and the seniors that are used to it for support.
“It has been very difficult. We’ve been reaching out to all our members with the assistance of local churches,” said Klemens.
“It’s just extremely isolating for most seniors … people are staying in touch by phone and we’ve been trying to do that as much as we can,” she said.
Klemens hopes the center will be able to open up properly this year.
“As soon as more people are vaccinated, our staff get vaccines, and it’s safe to do so, we want to open up again,” she said.
The center has still been providing to-go lunches for its members on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and their family caregiver program and case management staff continue work.
A weekly food bank has also been provided for the residents of the center’s low-income housing.
The AARP Tax Assistance Program will also be available this year through the center, although with some social distancing changes.
The center is still planning a big celebration for their 50th anniversary, and Klemens said they may do something in September if they can.
As they head into the future the center will be making some changes, the most immediate of which is they are changing their name to Stilly Valley Center.
The new name is meant to be more welcoming for all age groups, although they still intend to mainly provide for senior citizens.
“We’re still focusing on senior programming, but we want to make sure to engage the entire community,” said Klemens. “There’s a lot of value to bridging that intergenerational gap."
Many of the center’s programs are not restricted by age and Klemens said they want to bring in as many people as they can.
When the center was originally named, the Stillaguamish Tribe did not have as much presence in the community, but now more Arlington and Smokey Point residents are more familiar with them.
Because of this, there is some misunderstanding that the center was a tribal venture, said Klemens.
“It was time for us to implement that name change so we could alleviate that confusion,” she said.
The center’s board is working through a strategic plan right now that will help direct their future.
“We’re looking for the best programs for what seniors who are aging right now need,” said Klemens.
Center officials hope to be more innovative and keep up with what will work with the group currently aging.
“Seniors today are working longer and are much more active than in the past,” said Klemens.
“So there’s a much wider range of seniors. More diverse than they once were,” and the center wants to respond to that with appropriate programming, she said.
Like most nonprofit organizations the center relies on the support of the community and has taken a big hit in their pocketbook because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Klemens.
They are facing a large budget shortfall this year and are looking for any new fundraisers that will help to bring in money.
“This has been a challenging time, like it has been for many,” said Klemens.
More information about the organization is available at stillycenter.org.