How It All Started

by Founding PNA Executive Director Ed Medeiros

In 1978 the Phinney Ridge Community Council received a Community Development Block Grant of $200,000 to be used between 65th and 75th from Aurora to 3rd Avenue NW. At that time this was a low to moderate-income community composed primarily of seniors on fixed incomes.

In order to determine how the grant would be used, Community Developer, Marc Krandel, was sent by the City’s Department of Community Development (DCD) to facilitate discussions within the catchment area. He organized a series of “visioning” sessions at the local John B. Allen Elementary School to identify the top priority issues in the neighborhood.

Krandel broke the area up into two-block segments and went door to door talking to residents about the process and inviting them to participate in the block meetings. At each session, he would ask people to talk about their concerns and to brainstorm the key issues facing the community. At the end of each session, there would be a list of at least ten top priorities for that group.

A number of the participants were aging, long term residents who were concerned about the rising cost of energy, food, property taxes, and home maintenance. Many were concerned about getting around when they could no longer drive. There were also new, younger residents who were concerned about the lack of early childhood education and trees in the community. There was a general desire to connect with neighbors and to bring the community together.

All participants and friends were invited to general meetings to share the results of the earlier meetings and to discuss further steps needed to flesh out the top priorities. From those sessions, a steering committee of interested neighbors was formed to guide the process. Task Forces of interested neighbors were organized to further explore each of the top issues that had surfaced during the visioning process. Each task force was asked to recruiting more interested members from the surrounding neighborhood, researching their topic and developing a project proposal to be presented to the community.

I had attended the first block meeting because I wanted a “street tree” for my parking strip but became interested in the idea of a community center and joined that task force. We began with the ideas generated through the earlier visioning processes and then looked at existing centers throughout the region.

Two retired neighbors, Mr. Ross and Mr. Randle worked on developing a prototype storm window that was low cost and easy to make. The idea was to eliminate some of the draft lost in old windows and to keep the heat inside, thus lowering heating costs.

Another resident from the Philippines knew about growing tilapia and volunteered to use her home as a model ecosystem to teach others. There would be a “greenhouse” added to her house that would produce heat which could be used to supplement the home heating. They would grow edible plants and the runoff water, containing nutrients, would be collected and used to grow tilapia.

Aging residents wanted to stay in the community but were concerned about how they could afford to do so. Many were interested in the idea of sharing their homes in exchange for rent or help around the house. They researched how this might be facilitated and looked for models already working elsewhere.

Other ideas to make the community more livable included developing a van service that ran around the community to aid in shopping and other errands, community recycling at a central location(s), and planting trees.

A task force organized by young mothers worked on developing the idea of a preschool coop much like those available in other communities. Since coops were common in those days, an intergenerational group developed the concept of a “food buying coop.” Food would be purchased in bulk at a low cost and redistributed in smaller quantities and the savings passes onto members.

The upshot of all of this work was a proposal to the city to use all of the money for the development of a community center that would house and administer the other program recommendations. DCD said, “No” and suggested we break out each of the program ideas, assign a dollar figure to them and allow the community to decide which ones they would like.

Ultimately, each household in the catchment area received a ballot with the various program options that had been proposed by each committee.

Programs had a dollar value associated with them and there was $200,000 in script with which to vote. Informational sessions were held at various locations within the community where you could learn more about each program idea before voting. (See original voter’s pamphlet).

The voting results were as follows:

  • Community Center (100K)
  • Storm Window Weatherization Program (25K)
  • Home Sharing for Seniors Program (17.5K)
  • Preschool Coop (10K)
  • Senior Transportation Van Service (20K)
  • Greenhouse Gardening Program (10K)
  • Recycling Program (5K)
  • Food Co-op (2.5K)
  • Tree Bank (10K)
DCD had several problems with our results. Firstly, all previous block grant-funded projects had been one-time physical improvements such as crosswalks, new signals, street trees, etc.  These could be administered through City departments and had an end in sight.

Secondly, did the community actually need a community center (despite the fact that it was the number one item voted for by the community)?

And thirdly, if these ideas were approved, who was going to oversee them, and would they have the capacity to manage large grants?

The steering committee immediately began to address the concerns. They decided to formalize by becoming a non-profit entity.  A task force was set up to draft bylaws, complete forms and applications, and to recruit a board of directors. Original board members were: George Allen, Nick Sfondouris, Ed Medeiros,  Alice Poggi, Fred Maslan, Elizabeth Rodgers, Steve Paul, John Strong, Tony Ross, Bjorn Lunde, JoAnne Brekke, and Liza Barefield.

On March 7, 1980, the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) was incorporated under the State on Washington with a  501(c)(3) federal non-profit status.

As a non-profit organization, the PNA applied for and received a 20K grant from Seattle City Light to provide storm windows to low-income seniors.  Under the coordination of Susan Medeiros, at the home of Tony Ross and with the help of neighborhood volunteers, storm windows were built and installed at senior-owned households in the catchment area.

The community now had an organization to contract with the city and had proven its ability to manage funds and to meet contracted goals– i.e. a track record.

In the meantime, DCD had contracted an independent consultant for a community center feasibility study. The findings were not surprising. According to the criteria used in the study, the Phinney area needed a community center. It also concluded that it would be hard to find one facility to house a center and that it might have to function as a central office with satellite programs at a variety of sites throughout the community.

With a green light on developing a community center, the PNA began to work with the Seattle School District to manage one of the 20 schools being closed at that time.

In June 1981, the John B. Allen Elementary School was closed and re-opened in September as the Phinney Neighborhood Center. The PNA’s relationship with the School District lasted for the next 28 years–first as managers of the facilities, then as lessees.

Finally, in 2009, the John B. Allen school properties were purchased by the PNA.

Currently known as the Phinney Center, it has become one of the most unique and celebrated community center in all of Seattle.

All contract obligations with DCD had been completed by 1984. The PNA was then able to expand its service area and today membership in the PNA is open to everyone.

The Phinney Neighborhood Association is a grassroots organization that has grown over the past 40 years to become a community institution.

It manages programs at a number of sites in northwest Seattle and continues to respond to community needs as they arise. The PNA has earned the right to say, “community begins here.”

PNC 1984
Watch a King-5 Story from 1981 about the founding of the PNA:
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