Big gift from Big Al: home for abuse survivors

Bowling center owner, wife pay for half of duplex

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

If you called it Big Al's Refuge, you wouldn't be wrong.

Al and Sandee Kirkwood, the owners of three humongous Big Al's bowling/restaurant/recreation centers, financed the construction of one-half of a duplex near Walnut Grove Elementary School. Their gift was $151,700. The other half of the house was paid for by a $160,000 grant from Clark County. That money came from a federal block grant called HOME, aimed at creating affordable housing.

The beneficiaries of all this are Share, a nonprofit agency that serves the hungry and homeless in our community, and families headed by women who are fleeing domestic abuse. The first two families moved into the house just this week; they were diverted, according to Share program director Amy Reynolds, from a program that provides housing subsidies and various services.

"Both families that were initially selected are currently working," Reynolds said. "The housing is unsubsidized, the rent is very affordable, designed to help people who are on their way to being able to afford marketplace rents but have a few more barriers to address."

Each side of the duplex is a 1,500-square-foot townhome with three bedrooms and 2.5 baths. In addition to financing half the house, the Kirkwoods completely furnished both units. They also stocked the kitchens with food, the bathroom with toiletry items and the children's closets with clothing. Aaron's Inc. donated beds

and dressers. Plus, the Kirkwoods paid for basic Comcast television subscriptions for one year.

The duplex adds two family spots to Share's stable of four other domestic violence shelter houses that serve singles only. There's a two-year time limit for residents, Reynolds said.

"We are delighted that 'moving day' has finally arrived for these families," said a statement from Diane McWithey, Share's executive director. "We offer our sincerest thanks to Al and Sandee Kirkwood, as well as Clark County and Aaron's Inc., for making this day happen."

Big Al's Vancouver opened on Southeast 18th Street in 2006. There are also locations in Beaverton, Ore., and Meridian, Id. According to Share, the Kirkwoods have been longtime supporters of the agency and also contributed crucial support to the Clark County Food Bank project before it was built.