Services for seniors on Camano began long before Camano Senior Services Association (CSSA) was formed.

In the fall of 1972, the problem of services for the seniors of Camano Island became acute. At that time, the Camwood Senior Center (now known as the Stanwood Senior Center) was organized for Camano and Stanwood seniors. Few services were available; in fact the nearest meal site was in Arlington. Many Camano seniors objected to the long trip to take advantage of the Nutrition Program and other services. Snohomish County and Island County Commissioners endeavored to pool their efforts to help solve this problem. A grant was written and, in January of 1973, Senior Services of Island County (SSIC) began providing the Nutrition Program at Camwood. The meals were prepared at the Camano Inn located on SR 532 on Camano (later known as the Shipwreck Bar and Grill, which has since been torn down). Meals were delivered (by the former Director and volunteers) to the Camwood Senior Center and the Camano City Fire Hall on Wednesdays, to the Camano Country Club Fire Station and Camano Lutheran Church on Tuesdays and the Utsalady Ladies Aid Hall on Thursdays.

After a year the center of operation for the Nutrition Program was moved to Camano Island, leaving Camwood to work things out on their own with Senior Services of Snohomish County. Catered meals continued to be served at the Camano Lutheran Church, the Camano City Fire Hall and the Utsalady Ladies Aid Hall.

For a short time SSIC services could be accessed from a small office at the current Second Chance Thrift Shop site. In the spring of 1974, Senior Information and Assistance (provided by a social worker) was available from a desk rented at the Camano Plaza. The Nutrition Program also rented a freezer there to store Meals-on-Wheels food.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Art Hatton, Eleanor Fortson, and C.M. Kertson began raising the matching funds required by State Referendum 29 grant funds for the purpose of building a senior center on Camano Island. Midway through their fundraising efforts it was discovered that a 50% match was required for funding of a senior center, while only 25% was required for a multi-purpose center. A 50% match could not be raised at that time. Island County donated the land where the current Camano Multi-purpose Center (A.K.A. Camano Center) is located, which completed the 25% match. Referendum 29 funds specified that the building be used as a delivery point for health and human services for a period of 25 years. Referendum 29 funds were used to help construct the metal shell of the building, including cement pad, roof, some electrical, etc. Camano Island seniors raised the funds to finish the building including interior walls, carpet, dropped ceilings, paint, etc. The 3,000 square foot building was ready for use in 1978 and although the size of the building was inadequate and it wasn’t a senior center, Camano Island seniors were happy to have a home three days a week.

A Board of Managers, working under the SSIC umbrella, operated the Camano Center. As participation and interest in senior services on Camano grew, so did the desire for more local control. Camano Senior Services Association (CSSA) was formed and incorporated on April 15, 1982 for the purpose of providing social, economic, educational, recreational and other activities for the benefit of retired persons residing on Camano Island. Harold Vaara, who passed away in 2002, served as the organization’s first Board President.

In 1983 CSSA entered into a contract with Island County to manage the Camano Center. CSSA was responsible for all the costs of operating the Center, including insurance, electrical, disposal, custodial, maintenance and repairs. In return the organization could retain all rental income. Each year, operating costs far exceeded rental income.

CSSA was self-supporting up until 1997 when the organization began to receive some program support from Island County (averaging 10% of total income). The organization is still dependent on continuing fundraising efforts.

In the never-ending struggle to raise funds and thanks to the dedication of then Director Helen Roeder, volunteers Margaret Allen, Ann Bashforth, Harold & Evelyn Vaara, Henry & Jo Rumsey, Lu Steward and Bud & Evelyn Wagner, the Second Chance Thrift Shop opened in the summer of 1982. The first thrift shop was located in the current Stanwood-Camano Yacht Club building in the Madrona Beach neighborhood. In the early years, the volunteers would purchase something every day, just so they could show sales. In 1985, the shop moved to its current site on Highway 532. The Association rented that site for several years, purchasing it in November, 1988. In April of 1994, CSSA purchased a lot that adjoins the eastern border of the Thrift Shop property for future expansion.

In the spring of 1989, Executive Director, Helen Roeder retired and Executive Director, Marla Ries was hired as her replacement. At that same time the Center moved from a three days a week operation to a busy five days a week operation.

In 2008 CSSA began contracting with Senior Services of Island County to provide the Nutrition Program, Senior Information and Assistance/ Case Management, and the Volunteer Chore Program (medical rides) at an annual cost of $22,064.

Knowing that seniors live longer more satisfying lives in their own homes for far less money, CSSA promotes the adage, “There’s no place like home”. Programs, services and activities are designed to promote that concept. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Camano Island’s over 55 population represented 31.2% of its population. The 2010 U.S, Census reports the over 55 population for Camano Island as 6,433, 41% of the Island’s population.

As a retirement destination, the population of Camano Island continues to grow. “There’s no place like home” becomes a challenge when working with a significantly increasing number of older adults.

As far back as 1987, efforts had been made to address the space problem at the Center. In July 1987, the Island County Commissioners appointed a committee of Camano citizens and others to study the problem. In 1988, $1,000 was raised privately to retain an architect to assist in planning an expansion. At that time, a theater group, an arts group and district court approached the committee about incorporating space for their programs. Results of this study were then translated into four alternatives regarding the center which included the following:

  1. Construct a new, enhanced center at a new location;
  2. Construct a new, enhanced center at the existing site;
  3. Remodel the existing center; or
  4. Do nothing.

The committee recommended the construction of a new center at a new location.

Between 1989 and 1994, efforts continued but became fragmented. It became apparent that an arts center, senior center and general community center combination would be too costly and unmanageable. Efforts on the part of citizens diminished over time.

Then, in July of 1994, CSSA approached the County regarding improvements and expansion of the Camano Center. The County and CSSA determined that improvements and expansion were necessary to improve the services delivered to senior citizens. As estimated costs of improvements and expansion increased and approached $400,000, CSSA no longer wanted to incur the cost of improving the center without having ownership of the facility.

CSSA asked the County to release the facility to them. Investigation of this request revealed that such a release would require legislative action because the existing building was owned by the County and was built with Referendum 29 funds. Legislation was introduced in Olympia during the 1996 session, but the measure failed.

CSSA found and purchased a site for a senior center in April of 1997. The 18.2 acre parcel is located at the north end of the Island, situated between Arrowhead Road and East Camano Drive. In June of 1999 the organization sold 13 acres of the property to the Stanwood-Camano School District for the construction of an elementary school, which opened in the fall of the year 2000.

The construction of the new Camano Senior and Community Center began in September of 2000 with a heavy local influence. The building design was developed by the Stanwood architectural firm of Designs NW, was built by local contractor Jerry Heichel and the majority of the sub-contractors were all local.

Center staff and volunteers began moving into the new Center on Friday, September 7th, 2001 (the same day the carpet was being installed), and on Monday, September 10th, 218 people were served baked salmon, the first meal at the new Center.

Membership and participation has grown dramatically since moving into the new facility, as have the number and variety of programs, classes and activities.

A 1989 strategic planning session of the CSSA Board of Director’s called for completion of an independent senior center by the year 2005. As with most goals set by the organization, this long range goal was accomplished early and it took a community to make it all happen.

In October of 2004, Marla Ries resigned and Laurie Miller was hired as the new Executive Director. Laurie began adding more social events including a monthly movie night and social dances one time each month. In addition, the Center has been graced with many new presentations and special speakers. These presentations cover health, safety and education. Laurie Miller resigned in February of 2007.

In April of 2007 Karla Jacks was hired as the new Executive Director. The years 2007 and 2008 saw the demand build for more classes, activities, and programs. In January 2008, the Center’s operating hours were increased in order to meet the space demands on the building, staying open until 8 pm Monday through Thursday. The Center also began emphasizing community classes and programs. Free wireless internet service became available for members and users of the Center.

In 2009 the Second Chance Thrift Shop was remodeled due to increases in donations and customer traffic.

In 2010, Island Transit began transporting bus riders directly to the Camano Center’s front door. The Center hosted our first 55+ Community Resource Fair, and we entered the social networking age by creating our own Facebook page.

The year 2011 brought the retirement of long-time and much-loved Thrift Shop Manager, Lilli Karamanos, and the hiring of the talented and knowledgeable Roxanne Robertson-Moore. The Center was named as a beneficiary in Patricia Hartley’s substantial estate, including her waterfront Utsalady neighborhood home. The Center also received a significant bequest from the estate of Yoshiko “Yoko” Rager. Also, a new, powerful software system was purchased to track data on our ever-increasing membership.

Another major development of 2011 was the name change from Camano Senior and Community Center to Camano Center, the goal being to attract community members of all ages rather than just seniors. An expanded membership and user base will provide the Center with increases in funding and the opportunity to provide expanded services to the community.

In 2012 a new sign reflecting the name change, designed and created by local artist, Ruth Westra, was placed at the entrance to our driveway. Two new services were established; ‘Camano Connections’ is a daily phone call service where staff or volunteers call vulnerable seniors every morning the Center is open to check in and make sure they are alright. ‘Camano Connections Delivery’ is a service through which Camano Island seniors can have groceries from the Camano Plaza IGA and prescriptions from Mark’s Camano Pharmacy delivered to their homes.

2013 saw the sale of the Hartley house. After much deliberation, the Board of Directors decided to use the proceeds from the sale to pay off the Center’s mortgage. A Mortgage Burning Celebration was held in April of 2013.

A couple of very valuable services were added in 2013. The Center took over the community’s Disaster Registry where vulnerable residents are paired up with other community members who will check on them in the event of a significant weather event or a natural disaster. We also partnered with Senior Services of Island County to start a twice monthly Adult Day Program, to help caregivers get a respite from the heavy responsibilities of caring for their loved ones.

In January of 2014 the Center added Saturday hours in response to the needs of the community. We also increased our membership fees for the first time in ten years. This increase added value to membership by eliminating fees for members to participate in otherwise free groups. A Legacy Garden is taking shape thanks in large part to the hard work and talents of Friends of Camano Island Parks. Artwork and plaques will honor our largest donors. A life size bronze of Patricia Hartley with her dog was placed near the Center’s front doors in great appreciation of her very large bequest.

The Center strives to not only maintain our current programs and services, but to continue to expand them to serve ongoing needs in the community. We add new services, events, and activities as space and time allow. Even though our mortgage is satisfied, we still need to cover ever-increasing operating expenses. Island County funding decreased over the last couple of years, and ended entirely as of January 2015. The Center now relies on fundraising for 100% of its operating income. 42% currently comes from the Thrift Shop. Room and building rentals, membership fees, sponsorships, bequests, and donations make up the rest.

Camano Center leadership has studied ways to offset the loss of Island County funding, and has committed to expanding the Second Chance Thrift Shop.

The Thrift Shop frequently needs to turn down donations due to a lack of space. Lost donations equals lost revenue.

We are going to add an additional 4000 square foot building at the Thrift Shop site. The construction plans have been drawn, and the contractor is on board. The plan includes doubling the receiving area, donation processing and work areas, and retail space.

With this expansion, Second Chance will no longer need to turn away donations. The increase in revenue from the additional donations is estimated to be 10%. This amount will offset the loss of the funding loss from Island County.

The cost of the new construction will be $525,000.

In February of 2015, we kicked off a capital campaign to raise money for the Thrift Shop expansion. Your generous, tax deductible donation to our “Second Chance Thrift Shop Expansion Fund” is needed now.

The hard work and dedication of many community members has brought the Center to our current status. We need ongoing support from the community, as volunteers, members, and donors, in order to continue to be responsive to community needs.

Please commit some of your time and talents, participate in programs, and make your tax-deductible donations to help us to continue to serve our community. We cannot achieve our goals without the much appreciated help from the community. Your contributions will go to good use helping community members get and stay connected to the valuable programs and services we provide.