After months of working together to reboot the Mountlake Terrace Senior Center — doing business as the Lake Ballinger Center — the Edmonds Waterfront Center (EWC) and the Lake Ballinger Center have entered into an operating agreement. “The LBC will always maintain its unique identity, serving the Mountlake Terrace community,” said Daniel Johnson, Edmonds Waterfront Center CEO. Managing it as an extension of the EWC will add needed stability and enhance the reach to underserved communities as a multigenerational/multicultural center.”
The Edmonds Waterfront Center is a regional center that serves south Snohomish and north King County (including Shoreline). “Mountlake Terrace is just four miles from the EWC and at the geographic center of our catchment area,” Johnson said.
The pandemic took its toll on many small businesses and nonprofits. The Mountlake Terrace Senior Center was among them. With the doors closed for programs for more than two years, dedicated staff and volunteers built and kept a curbside lunch program going – a lifeline supporting over 100 older adults and providing 400 meals each week.
Lake Ballinger Center Executive Director Elizabeth Zeller was hired just as COVID was taking hold. “It was a challenging time to take the reins here,” Zeller said. “But the heart of the members, volunteers and community inspired me.”
The center’s curbside senior lunch program operated continuously for three years. “The spiritual leader of the soul of our lunch program was Board Chair and volunteer extraordinaire Neal Foozer. During the three-year program, he served thousands,” said Zeller. “That superhuman effort to feed anyone who needed aid is Neal’s legacy.” Sadly, Foozer passed away in late September.
The Edmonds Senior Center, the precursor to the Edmonds Waterfront Center, has a long history with LBC. The LBC served as a primary program site while the Waterfront Center was being constructed. With limited programming, a single staff person – stretched thin — and with a handful of devoted volunteers, it was clear the LBC needed reinforcements.
The first step was to activate the space with programs. EWC Program Director Michelle Burke was familiar with the site. “It was a perfect opportunity to move three popular EWC programs (experiencing growing pains) to Mountlake Terrace,” Burke said. In May, ballroom dancing (with live music), line dancing and duplicate bridge relocated to Mountlake Terrace. The ample parking and setting next to Balllinger Park were big incentives for program participants.
While the programs were activating the space, LBC was able to restore a more traditional congregate meal program that allows seniors to gather in person and make important social connections. Zeller negotiated a new contract with Lynnwood-based Homage Senior Services to deliver 30 hot lunches three days a week and hire a new head cook. The program has grown in popularity to serve 40 hot meals three days weekly.
“Underscoring the commitment to LBC’s success, the EWC Board of Directors formed a Mountlake Terrace Taskforce to oversee the many aspects of stabilizing operations,” said EWC Board Chair Karen Barnes. That task force later officially became the newly constituted board for LBC.
Among the board members is Bob Kleinschmidt. Retired from a career in commercial heating and cooling, Kleinschmidt now serves on the EWC board and on the newly constituted LBC board. He is leading the charge on getting the building back into tiptop shape. He works to identify deferred maintenance issues but often gets his tools out and fixes them himself. Kleinschmidt is frequently seen at the Lake Ballinger Center, sometimes with a tool in his hand or dipping into the line dancing class with his wife.
Funding is an ongoing challenge for any nonprofit. With the expanded programs and growing membership, additional resources were needed. The City of Mountlake Terrace was the first to step up with needed grant funding. The new energy at the center has also inspired local families to make individual contributions to the effort. Diana and Steve White made a personal significant gift. Steve White had grown up in Mountlake Terrace. His father, Bob White, served as city manager for the City of Mountlake Terrace for more than 25 years and was also pleased to contribute.
“We are delighted to see the Center come back to life,” said Diana White. “The timing is perfect, given the $8.5 million being invested in the Lake Ballinger Park redevelopment.”
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