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Multi-Service Centers celebrate 25 years

Helping 250 families a week


The Northshore Multi-Service Centers of North and East King County recently celebrated 25 years of providing services to those in need. Volunteers Cheryl Hall, left, and Gladys Lewellen, right, pitch in sorting through clothes, food, Christmas gifts, and decorations donated to the center in Bothell.

Multi-Service Center

The Multi-Service Center, as it appears today, celebrates it 25th anniversary and continues to provide food and services for Northshore families. During the holidays, the Center provides for 350 to 450 area families in need.
Photos by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

Multi-Service Center by Jeff Switzer
BOTHELL--What began as a job clinic upstairs in Bothell's City Hall has changed a lot over the years, now providing food and services for 250 Northshore families each week throughout the year and considerably more during the holidays.
   The Multi-Service Centers of North and East King County recently celebrated 25 years of helping those in need, after the seed was planted in Northshore by Cottage Lake resident Chuck Eberhart.
   The center's humble beginnings grew out of unemployment in the early 1970s, which soared in Northshore to 17 percent. Eberhart, one of the many industrial engineers left reeling after aerospace layoffs at both Boeing and throughout the country, used his knowledge of social programs and federal funding to help create a job clinic in Bothell.
   "We were located in Bothell City Hall in the 'weather room,'" Eberhart recalled. "Bud Ericksen let us use the space, GTE donated the phone, and Boeing gave us two desks and chairs. We were hustling jobs and having a hell of a good time doing it."
   Eberhart said Jeff Wood, a former industrial engineer working for the Seattle King County Economic Opportunity Board, asked him if he'd take the job clinic to the next level and help set up a multi-service center in the area. The Office of Economic Opportunity supplied the funds and the ship was launched. Competition with more urban areas for federal and regional funding of social programs marked the beginning of the center, as 15 to 20 organizations were represented on the Economic Opportunity Board.
   "We were the first one outside of Seattle," Eberhart said, noting the agitation going on through all of the social programs. "Looking back, I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole, but we had to start someplace. I take a lot of pride in what we accomplished. It was just something that had to be, and it was a long time coming."
   The job clinic fell by the wayside, picked up by the Washington State Employment Agency, and the centers focused on other social programs and providing food banks. But the community was transformed, as well, by the presence of the center.
   "It opened up the churches and some of the community leaders to the obvious fact that there were truly a lot of poor people out here. That fact has never changed, and I was damn poor, and I was poor when I left. It opened up the area to the some of the needs here," Eberhart said. "Boeing will prove and prove again there's no security. Security is within yourself and yourself only. You can't depend on anybody else except yourself and the Lord."

The multi-service centers today
   An average of 250 families use the Northshore facility for food and services each week, says Linda Benson, development director with the Multi-Service Centers of North and East King County. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that number soars to 350 to 450 families a week.
   There are five centers on the Eastside: Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Carnation, and Bothell. Each provides an array of services, including food banks, shelter support, transitional housing programs, eviction prevention support, and emergency family shelter, located in Kenmore. They also administer small grants for heating bills and emergency financial support for water and electricity, plus vouchers for gas, or shoes for a child's sports program, or prescriptions. These services go hand-in-hand with case management and counseling to help families and individuals get back on their own feet.
   "We're really focusing in on achieving self-sufficiency," Benson said.
   Each center is a large food bank, "very in tune with the clients' needs," she said. The family food bank is designed for the general public; a different time and selection is scheduled for seniors and the disabled, who may need more time and different types of food. A couple of times each month, the food banks will open in the evening for working families and students.
   "We are, in essence, the first line of defense for people in emerging crisis," Benson said, noting that the centers have information and referral programs and can refer those in need to other agencies.
   Aside from community service programs, the agency coordinates and transports as many as 70,000 rides each month for elderly, disabled, and low-income people throughout King County, anything from trips to the doctor to transportation to daycare or the grocery store.
   "This helps people maintain a self-sufficient lifestyle that otherwise would be very dependent," Benson said. "The holidays are such a wonderful time to look forward to, but can be a real tough time for those in need. With the financial pressure, to even think about a gift for that child can be beyond comprehension. They squeak by."
   The centers have a large holiday basket program and serve well over 3,000 families, though this year, with the short amount of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Northshore's gift donations were very low at a time when there is usually a flood of support.
   Benson says it would be hard to imagine what the communities would do if the centers were not there to help, and that it's a service that seems to be hidden to a lot of people. "The poverty is there and 45 percent are children. We are truly talking families, 40 percent of which are working. Those who are carrying a lot of the burden are the kids," Benson said.
   Looking to the future, Benson says the centers' current programs will continue to expand to fit the need. They are close to launching a family development program, taking a very comprehensive approach to "helping those families in need take the bull by the horns, which will increase the quality of their life."
   They will also work with families at risk of becoming homeless, drawing on the family's individual strength and helping them navigate a process to a self-sufficient life.
   "They're in the driver's seat and they're responsible for building a vision and setting goals to achieve those goals," Benson said.