MARYSVILLE – Caregiver Sue Williss guided her “bulldozer crew” of disabled adults outside Willow Place; they took turns shoveling for a weeping willow planted in memory of her mother, Donna.
Like the willow that will grow quickly in its new space, so has Willow Place.
Quilceda Community Services, the nonprofit that runs the daytime recreation program for disabled adults, completed an expansion in April that doubled its size to 5,052 square feet.
“The demand for the program has continued to grow, and our facility was bursting at the seams,” said Karen Harper, QCS board president who has been with the program since its inception.
The expansion created space for a larger music room, a stand-alone game room and a 1,500-square-foot exercise room.
Harper said the expansion fills a need for a program that started with four older disabled participants in 2008, and has grown to more than 200 clients ranging from ages 16 to 73.
QCS is having a public open house from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. May 19 to celebrate the expansion. The address is 9610 48th Drive NE.
“We want to show the building off, and welcome volunteers,” Harper said, adding there also is room for new clients. “The programming and kinds of activity we offer here are so needed and hard to find.” Willow Place offers specialized recreation for special needs clients, providing respite for caregivers. QCS, founded in 1976, also provides housing for adults with developmental disabilities at five locations.
The former music room has become the game room. Tables and chairs can seat 24, with a Toy R’ Us-sized wall cabinet with board games, puzzles and other features that let clients socialize. “This is where they start the day for the first hour,” Harper said.
Everybody arrives by an agency van, DART bus or a family member. Marysville and Arlington school districts contract with the agency to introduce exiting students and their parents to community programs.
The new music room is large enough to accommodate 20 clients in a circle comfortably along with their bongos, congas and percussion instruments.
“Some clients can’t take the loud music, so they do other things, like sing, or grab other musical instruments. Some days in here are pretty wild,” she said.
The highlight of the expansion is the fitness room. It features hardwood flooring with a soft underlay that’s good for Zumba and yoga. Equipment includes racks of fitness and bouncing balls, floor mats and barbells. “In the new room the clients can turn, spin and spread out,” Harper said.
The previous fitness room was cramped, Williss said. “If you did anything you were brushing up against somebody.”
The bigger room means they can bring inside one of the favorite outdoor activities – a parachute. Participants grab hold around the edges, stretch and shake the fabric, then bounce and balance balls or teddy bears on top of the parachute for fun.
“Their arms moving up and down and using motor skills to keep the parachute up is one of the best exercises they can do; they don’t even know they’re exercising,” Williss said.
The final hour is for art projects. On a recent visit, clients were working on presents and gift bags for Mother’s Day, including painting small flower pots.
Verna Molstad of Arlington was picking up her grandson, Ray, who lives with her. She gave the Willow Place expansion glowing reviews.
“It is the most fantastic building, and the gym area is awesome,” she said. “Ray loves the big screen TV, and it’s all so roomy now. It was worth the wait.”
Molstad said she appreciates the break that the program gives her. “It means respite for me, and that means joy for Raymond,” she said. “It gives him something to do every day to look forward to.” Ray had trouble getting the words out, but his grandmother translated: “Thank you.”
“This place is such a lifesaver for me,” Molstad said. “I’m raising two grandchildren. Having this program gives me time where I can go volunteer at my granddaughter’s school, then I can go to the store or bank, wherever. “It gives me a couple hours for me to do what I need to do,” she said.
Ray said his favorite activity is Zumba and instructor Rachel Hawkins.
Molstad said, “He can’t do Zumba, but he loves the rhythm of it, and the music.”
Added Williss, “If you’re moving, you’re doing Zumba. That’s what we tell them.” Client Brianna Marble said, “I love coming here to have fun with these two girls, Brianna and Nyika.” She pointed to her friends across the table in the art room. “We all play games together.”
Nyika Nelson likes exercising and Zumba, but “my favorite is yoga.”
Harper said neighbors were apprehensive when the building first opened. Now they’ve embraced the center.
“We have one that is a cash donor, one that even comes as Santa Claus at the holidays,” Harper said. “They like it because this is a weekday program and closed on weekends. Others didn’t want disabled people in their community, until they found out how easygoing the clients were.”
Harper became involved with QCS because of her younger sister, Leslie Venables, who is developmentally disabled and needed a place to socialize.
Harper has continued her role as board president and advocate for the group for years. Harper thanked Arlington-based architect Ruth Gonzales and Belmark Homes in Marysville for completing the work, keeping the cost of labor and materials down.
“It’s great when a community pulls together for a nonprofit like that,” Williss said. “The first project bid came in at $350,000, so you know the companies’ generosity was a big help.”
Center assistant Tom Albers said vocational programs would be a next step for many clients, but until those are available Willow Place fills the day in a positive way. “After they get out of school when they’re 21 to transition, there’s no place for them to go,” he said. “We’re hoping the expansion will help the region take care of the need.”
Willow Place is funded through user fees, contributions, grants and fundraisers. QCS also receives revenue operating the nonprofit Quilceda Community Thrift Store at the Country Charm Daily in Arlington, as well as a vocational program for the disabled. People interested in volunteering or donating may contact QCS at 360-653-2324.