New Executive Director focuses on bringing families to senior center

Marlene Maier

Every weekday at 6 a.m. Marlene Maier, executive director of the Mountlake Terrace Senior Center, goes into work — three hours before the senior center opens for business.

For three hours she works on paperwork and arranges meetings, in between setting up trash can liners and preparing coffee. She leaves anytime between 3 and 5 p.m., clocking in well over her required three-quarters time-position.

She arrives so early because that’s when the senior center is most quiet, she said. It’s a good opportunity to get work done. By 9 a.m., when people start showing up, she said a lot of questions are to be answered and she needs to be attentive.

She recently moved her office to be closer to the front of the building. Before, it sat in the back and she would have to walk through several rooms to reach it. She switched some rooms out and now her office is the second door to the left when she first walks in. She did this because she wanted to feel closer to the “action” of everything and wanted to be more available to her staff and those who came in with questions.

Maier speaks with and manages a large amount of people everyday. From card games being played in the door next to her office to a free 15-minute legal clinic, her schedule is often full.

Maier grew up in Snohomish County and attended Snohomish High School before Everett Community College and, later Western Washington University. At WWU, Maier got degrees in special education, rehab and business administration and dispute resolution, among other areas.

Since then, she’s worked in a number of different nonprofits for the rest of her career, including those that help people with disabilities and therapeutic child care centers, such as Treehouse in Seattle.

Eventually, Maier decided it was time to retire and moved to Whidbey Island, where she said she had her toes in the sand a lot for four years. She was “semi-retired,” she said.

But after her father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she and her husband moved back home to Lynnwood. Maier said she decided this because she wanted to support both her father-in-law and her own parents. With that, she decided her next job would be to work at a senior center.

Maier wants to see senior centers be integrated more with intergenerational and intercultural activities.

“So it’s not that you reach a certain point, you retire and go to senior center. Families are involved too,” she said.

She volunteered at different senior centers in the community, including the Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett. She did this to get an inside look at senior centers, as well as find out what worked and what didn’t, so that when she found a permanent place to work, she wouldn’t be going in blind.

She confided in the director there about how she wanted to be director of a senior center herself and he informed her there was an opening in Mountlake Terrace.

She applied and was offered the position of Executive Director in April. She said she took the job because the saw the possibilities of having access to such a large space and how beautiful it was. The senior center is located at 23000 Lakeview Dr., next to the Ballinger Playfield, where recreational sports teams can practice and play. Also, the center has access to about 42 acres of land with the interurban trail nearby.

“There are a lot of things we can do involving families,” she said.

The center was put up for auction four years ago after the Mountlake Terrace Country Club moved out. The senior center has been renting it since, on a five-year lease.

In addition, the rooms at the senior center can be used or rented out for clubs and activities. For example, the Mountlake Terrace rock painting group recently approached Maier about meeting in the center once a week. The main ballroom is also available for various uses, including baptisms, weddings, memorials and parties, Maier explained.

The most challenging part of her job, she said, is figuring out the needs of those in the community, then finding the best way to address them.

Often people will come with a problem, such as a double-booking or an activity that will take more time to plan than originally scheduled, and it will take a team effort to find a solution.

Maier said the senior center depends a lot on the volunteers. Because it’s a non-profit the center doesn’t acquire much revenue. Also, Maier expressed frustration toward the lack of government funding going toward non-profits.

She said more non-profits have had to act with a business person’s mentality due to the decrease in support and income.

“Non-profits have had to compete for dollars we never have before,” she said.

Because of this, the staff at the senior center is limited. She mentioned how she had never before worked somewhere without an office manager or a janitorial staff. It’s not uncommon for Maier to clean the front desks and also negotiate with a caterer and write a grant in the same day.

The best part of Maier’s job is the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the community. She’s worked with members of the MLT City Council and Mayor Jerry Smith. Also, with the different events the center has put on, she’s become acquainted with other citizens.

Maier puts out a bowl of water during the summer for people walking their dogs on the interurban trail and often goes outside to meet the ones who drink from it. She said she now knows a lot of the dogs’ names, along with their owners.

“Everyone here has been so great and welcoming,” she said.

Her only wish for the senior center is for more people to simply know about it. She said she’s been learning that not everyone knows that not only knows the center exists but that it rents out its rooms for community use.

“I’m finding that people just don’t know we’re here,” she said, gesturing to the building.

–By Stephi Smith

  1. Outside funding has various forms. It’s not always a check written to the recipient. The Senior Center rent is $1,500 per month, or possibly less if the City has granted concessions. This is for a 6,800 square foot building. That below-market rent rate is an in-kind government contribution to the Senior Center, every month. The Senior Center received a grant from Verdant in the amount of $60,000 for capital improvements; this could also be looked at as public funding.

    Challenges to Senior Center staffing were not unanticipated. They were a stated reason for the dissenting votes by members Sonmore and Smith when the City Council voted 4-2 in late 2013 to lease the Ballinger building to the Senior Center.

    Even some of those who voted for the lease expressed concerns.

    Some rosy projections were offered in 2013 when the Center was attempting to secure this lease. Plans to increase membership from 350 to 1,000 were mentioned, and substantial event revenue increases were also predicted.

    Some of these projections required a ‘perfect world’ scenario to make the Center revenue-positive, in the words of Senior Center director Mike Cooper. When Mr. Cooper announced his retirement, he was quoted by as describing the Center as ‘vibrant’ and ‘growing’.

    Did any of that turn out to be accurate? It might be of interest to compare the Senior Center revenue and expense projections offered up in 2013 to those actually occurring today. Membership was 350 in 2013. What is it today? What is the rent today? Did the rent decrease when the capital improvements to the building were completed? Did the rent decrease because of other reasons?

    I note that, under the terms of the lease, the City has the right to use the Senior Center 120 hours each year for meetings and other gatherings. I wonder if that was taken into consideration when meeting spaces were designed by the City Hall planning commission.

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