The Rainier Senior Center is more than a gathering place for the city’s most venerable citizens — it’s a community hall, a source of nutrition for those in need, a park stand-in for those drizzly Pacific Northwest days and so much more.
“It’s my home away from home,” said Linda Johnson, treasurer for the organization, in an interview with the Nisqually Valley News. “And it’s the same for most of the people who come in here —it’s their home away from home. … We just want people to use it as a community center. That’s what it’s for.”
Over the past five years, the center’s members have been on a quest to improve their building for the future generations of those who inhabit the little hamlet, nestled neatly in the woods of Highway 507.
Most recently, the organization was able to replace its leaky roof for $26,000 back in March, thanks to donations from Rochester’s RE/MAX Reality, Wilcox Farms and other entities. But what really made the job possible were grants from the federal Cares Act of $10,000, Thurston Strong of $2,500, and from the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound of $5,000.
“The roofing company did a great job,” Johnson said. “When we had the estimate done with West Coast Roofing and Siding in Centralia … it took a couple months for the roof to get done because of rain, but they came in at the bid price. It didn’t go over, even though the materials had gotten expensive in the meantime. So we highly recommend them. They did a good job.”
Johnson said people will now be able to use the Rainier Senior Center for “years to come, decades” even, thanks to the new roof.
“This is not the same building it was five years ago,” said George Johnson, co-chair of the organization at a We Love Rainier meeting held in the building. “For the people who use the building, it’s a more pleasant place to come. It’s going to be here for a while because of the roof. For the community, on the outside, the building looks great. I don’t know what other terminology to use.”
The outside work that George Johnson referred to came in the form of a fresh paint-job, made possible by a $10,000 grant from the JZ Knight Humanities Foundation. After all the paint dried, the center still had money left over, and obtained permission to use the rest of the funds to finish and paint the walls of the building’s upstairs meeting space.
Rainier Senior Center also serves as a satellite for the local food bank.
“We got a whole bunch of emergency-preparedness food from the Rainier Emergency Food Bank, so we’ve been getting a lot of food from them, which helps us for different projects that need to be done,” Linda Johnson said.
For a suggested $5 donation, folks of all ages can dine on hot food cooked on-site at 10 a.m. every Monday and Wednesday. But all that cooking calls for a functional place to prepare the food.
Thanks to donations, the center now has all new kitchen appliances: two stoves, a washer and dryer and a side-by-side refrigerator. Two gently-used freezers were also donated, bringing the center’s freezer-count up to five. And due to electrical issues, Mike’s Electric rewired the place.
“It means we have people willing to volunteer in the kitchen — by getting the new appliances — because we had burners that didn’t work and ovens that didn’t work right before,” Linda Johnson said. “People enjoy working the kitchen (now.)”
George Johnson said the meals are often a senior’s or community member’s only source of hot food each week, making them the most important aspect of the center’s offerings. But he said he was glad that it has become a de facto community hall.
“It was silly to have this building here and just use it two mornings out of the week, because it’s a great building,” George Johnson said. “It almost doesn’t matter what kind of group you have, because we have three places to put you. We have (the dining room), the front room and upstairs.”
Indeed, the scouting troop, Alcoholics Anonymous, various HOAs, a quilting guild and more call the center home. There is even talk of using the place as the location for the city’s talent show.
It’s also been a back-up location for groups that usually meet in city parks when the days were too cold or the weather too wet. For instance, the Rainier Saturday Market and Church in the Park have been known to reconvene within the building’s welcoming halls, he said.
Other donations include entertainment centers, bookcases, a display case, a card rack, two televisions, a DVD player, a clock, a printer and computers. The last of these, coupled with the addition of internet access in the building, have really made all the difference, Linda Johnson said.
“People can come and do their census and husbands’ death certificates and stuff that really needed to be done online,” she said.
But there is still work left to be done.
Linda Johnson said the members of the organization want to install new flooring upstairs, purchase a new generator and have a plumber run hot water to the restrooms, with the latter of these scheduled to be completed in the coming weeks.
Through all the donations, gifts of time and labor, grants and offers of lasting friendship, Linda Johnson said she is amazed at how everything came together.
“It’s just like everybody in the community has come and helped us redo this whole center,” she said.