Re-opening and reconnecting at the PNA

Re-opening and reconnecting at the PNA
By mattc

PNA staff (momentarily) gather at the Phinney Center desk for a welcoming “hello”.

By Jamie Aronson

This year has been a continual learning process in flexibility, adaptability, and leaning into the unknown. We’ve all had to make difficult decisions for ourselves, our families, our communities. On the one hand, health and safety is our top priority. And on the other hand, connection is such a huge part of the human experience and human happiness.

The Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) has been able to offer many ongoing services—some virtual—throughout the past year. While “opening up” seems to be coming in fits and starts with the spread of the Delta variant, PNA staff are excited about what reopening will (hopefully) soon mean for the organization and our community. They continue to monitor the dynamic situation of COVID-19 and are moving forward with cautious optimism and adjusting as necessary as they go along. Their team is committed to the safety and health of our neighbors and community.

PNA Program Director, Krissie Dillin says, “The term ‘opening up’ brings to mind an image of a flower that opens in the spring with the first light of the morning. I see the PNA opening up to the community in a way that will bring new energy, new experiences, and a renewed sense of why the PNA does what it does—we are here to bring together people from all walks of life that are looking for a place to belong…I have missed connecting with people face-to-face, building new relationships with people that I don’t agree with and learning from their perspective.”

Graphic of a food truck from the Food Truck Friday event series.

Food Truck Friday events ran from June 25 to August 27, 2021. Each Friday brought different local food trucks and diverse crowds to the Phinney Center.

It has been difficult to not be together. People love seeing each other, connecting, and meeting up for chance encounters. A few of PNA’s summer events, such as Garage Sale Day, Art Sale & Stroll, and Food Truck Fridays have been opportunities to meet with neighbors and friends after a long year, and just enjoy informal connections with others.

The PNA plans to create more of these opportunities for neighbors to connect by providing the infrastructure and support to gather, in whatever ways are safe as conditions and guidelines evolve.

Community is core at the Greenwood Senior Center and PNA Village

Cecily Kaplan, who oversees the Greenwood Senior Center and PNA Village program, is focused on staying flexible with these changing times. While there may be more in-person events this fall, depending on current guidelines, some groups like those for caregivers will continue to meet virtually. Cecily loves what makes the Senior Center so unique in its connection to the larger PNA.

The Center provides programs and services for seniors including a staff social worker, fitness and lifelong recreation, support services and groups, memory-loss programming, and a lunch program. Its many classes and activities are open to adults of all ages, not just seniors.

The PNA Village helps seniors to stay in their own homes and community as they age with concierge and volunteer services, plus a robust network of connections and social activities.

Kids’ programs are jumping back into fall

Kathy Valencik, Whittier Kids Director, is excited to welcome children back to the program. Whittier Kids, located inside Whittier Elementary, is a play-based preschool and before- and after-school licensed childcare program that also offers summer camps. It is now in session and its hands-on curriculum is actively adapting to all COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Kathy notes that she’s happy to have such a strong and supportive community of families, schools, and administrators.

Whittier Kids’ hands-on curriculum is actively adapting to all COVID-19 protocols and the kids are having a fun time back in preschool.

Cooperative learning for the littles

PNA houses four parent-run cooperative preschools: Ballard Preschool Co-op (BPC), Phinney Cooperativa Preescolar en Español (PCPE), Phinney Neighborhood Preschool Co-op (PNPC), and Tampopo Japanese Co-op Preschool.

After virtual learning during the pandemic, the preschool programs are responding to the needs of the community and are offering in-person classes. Enrollment is still open for many schools. Christi Beckley, PNA executive director, says, “I can’t wait for the co-ops to be back in person at Phinney Center and Ballard. I haven’t seen the teachers and kiddos and miss that so much!”

Supporting our neighbors with meals and more

PNA’s Hot Meal Program serves neighbors fresh-cooked meals three times weekly, paired with mobile medical and dental care provided by our partners Lahai HealthSeattle Pacific University, and Medical Teams International.

Nurse checks the blood pressure of a man in a chair outside.

A Seattle Pacific University nursing student checks blood pressure during their weekly time on site with the Hot Meal Program. Photo: Brian David Casey

Program Director Krissie Dillin is proud that the program weathered the worst of the shut-down. “The Hot Meal Program was able to remain open during the entire pandemic (we only had to close one day!) with the outpouring of support from the community via volunteers, financial support, and donations of much-needed supplies.”

The program continues to serve anyone who needs a meal, and Krissie says, “We are happy to say that we are not experiencing a need to re-open because we were here the whole time!”

Meet up at the Phinney Center

The Phinney Center has long been a place where community can gather for classes, meetings, parties, and all other types of events. While rentals have remained open at the Phinney Center campus, they have largely been used by summer camps and childcare. As Facilities Director Eric Jusino says, “Our goal this whole time has been to enable renters and partner programs to operate as much as possible within the state guidelines.”

The PNA provided lease and rent relief to its partners while operating at limited capacity. For example, the YMCA doubled their space, and the PNA cut their rent in half to enable them to operate. The center has also offered a classroom as a dayroom for community members to charge devices, shelter, use computers, and study. The PNA plans to increase the Phinney Center’s rental capacity and hours with more on-site support this fall.

Sign that states, "Community Begins Here" from outside the Phinney Center.

While the PNA rides the COVID- 19 roller coaster with the rest of the community, the program, event, and facilities staff are continually working to figure out ways to try keep our community connected and engaged with each other and our opportunities. On September 22, the PNA is hosting an Open House and resource fair with information on its programs and events.

PNA Executive Director Christi Beckley looks towards the future with the hope of expanded opening up. “To me, opening up means a return to normal and comes with gratitude and excitement. I’m grateful that I live in a community with such a high vaccination rate and am excited to see the faces I’ve missed seeing for so long. However, I realize for many opening back up still comes with uncertainty and worry. And we are all living with the constant change that COVID brings.”