Two local senior centers were among many to receive a portion of $20.6 million collected through the voter-approved Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy.
That multi-million pot of tax revenue is being used to create what are called “hubs” — a network of interconnected senior centers that, through combined resources, can better reach vulnerable seniors of various demographics.
“These investments in services for King County seniors are unprecedented and reflect the generosity of, and commitment to our seniors by King County taxpayers,” King County Council Chair Rod Dembowski said in a press release. “I have seen the value that senior centers deliver first-hand, as my 90-year-old dad is a regular visitor for meals and dances at his local senior centers. These investments help ensure that our seniors have access to the services they have earned by their lifetime of contributions to our community and nation.”
The Enumclaw Senior Center is one of those hubs, and will be granted $885,000 for some new programs and positions. The Black Diamond Senior Center will also receive $90,000.
Jobyna Nickum, the Enumclaw Senior Center’s director for the last 28 years, has chosen to use her grant to focus on rural, isolated seniors.
These seniors “face their own special risk factors,” she said. “South County rural seniors have a lower life expectancy than seniors that live in Seattle, we have a higher suicide rate… [and] we have higher incidents of health conditions such as heart disease, depression, obesity, stroke, than seniors that live in other parts of the county. And, of course, being rural, we have a lack of rural transportation.”
According to the recent CHI Franciscan Plateau Community Health Information Report, quoted in Nickum’s grant application, the average life expectancy for seniors in ZIP code 98022 is 79.9 years, whereas the county’s average is 82 years.
The same report also stated 12 percent of adults that live in 98022 are in mental health distress, while the county’s average was closer to 10 percent; this could explain why the local suicide rate in 13.2 per 100,000 people when the average county rate is 12.2.
Many of these health risks, Nickum said, can be alleviated through social interaction — but one of the biggest challenges for area seniors is not having many, if any, transportation options.
The Enumclaw Senior Center has a van to help pick up seniors inside city limits, and a few just outside those boundaries, but “in terms of transportation that would reach out into the rural elderly, either to bring them into the senior center, or to bring them into Access Health Programs that we’re able to get through King County or other means, there’s no transportation that does that,” she continued, adding that even the new King County Access bus program will only go a certain distance away from a current bus route. “A senior that lives way out by Wabash, a senior that lives way out by Westwood, a senior that lives out by Osceola is not able to come in and access a speaker on King County property tax exemptions, won’t be able to come in for discount dental or care or discount foot care, won’t be able to reduce social isolation with the lunch program or the music that we have.”
To solve this issue, part of the $885,000 will go toward developing a new transportation service that will bring rural seniors outside city limits to the Senior Center or other program locations, as well as a new resource navigation/case management position to guide rural seniors toward the programs and services they’re in need of.
Nickum also plans to develop programs specifically for rural seniors as well as Latinx elders in and around Enumclaw, and hopes to get a needs assessment survey off the ground in the near future, so current seniors and aging adults can be better served.
Finally, some of the grant will be used to replace the senior center’s 1984 dishwasher, since this project will include needing to install new piping and rearranging other kitchen appliances.
But although the Enumclaw Senior Center is receiving this grant, Nickum stressed that the grant does not take the place of other operating costs.
“These are wonderful funds, and we’re going to do incredible things that we wrote the grant for,” she said. “But this does not [replace] the funding we still need from the city to operate the senior center, and this does not [replace] the fundraising that all the seniors do for all the soft costs — the music for parties, the corsages for moms on Mother’s Day, the candy canes at Christmas, all the things that make the senior center the senior center.”
Over at the Black Diamond Senior Center, director Cheryl Hanson said in an email interview that the Black Diamond Community Center’s board of directors will potentially decide how to use its $90,000 grant during the Sept. 12 meeting.
The Greater Maple Valley Senior Center and the Korean Women’s Association, both of which also serve South King County, were two other local senior centers to receive a $90,000 grant.