Share staff savors spacious new digs

Nonprofit that aids local homeless moves offices, services under one roof

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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The bowling alley odors of cigarette smoke and kitchen grease are gone at last — replaced by an air of new carpeting and drywall. The motion-sensitive lights keep you moving — otherwise they tend to wink out while you're sitting still, focused on your job.

That's a good thing, laughed Share spokeswoman Jessica Lightheart, because it demonstrates one of many improvements in the nonprofit agency's new 23,000-square-foot headquarters, the Fromhold Service Center on Andresen Road: the energy-efficient, "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified" building is smart about saving power and money.

"When you consider that Share has never had an office space that was intended to be an office space, you can appreciate how great this is," Lightheart said during a Wednesday morning visit. "This is the first time we've had a space that actually works for us."

Pulling together Share's administrative and staff offices, its volunteer workspace and makeshift storage from scattered sites — among them Share House, on West 13th Street — has been a journey of five years and nearly $5.5 million, said executive director Diane McWithey. The point is reducing overhead and concentrating services while freeing up more shelter space in Share House, which will now boast 12 more shelter beds plus a "recovery room" for homeless folks who have just emerged from the hospital, said development director Sue Warren.

'Exciting to be here'

It all culminated last weekend, as the staff of 37 made the move from the west side to central Vancouver. The location is on a convenient bus line that also runs past sister service providers, Lightheart said.

"It's exciting to be in here," said McWithey, unpacking a few lingering boxes in her new office Wednesday before hurrying to a meeting. "Friday night, I was so excited, I stayed until 9:30."

Most of the money that paid for the remodel of what used to be Timber Lanes Bowling Alley came from private, not government, sources, McWithey pointed out. "The community really came through for us," she said.

But there's still a little distance left to go — about $140,000, according to Warren. You can help out by buying a brick paver for the entrance way to the building, or even naming a room; visit sharevancouver.org or call Warren at 360-952-8227 to learn more.

In addition to the new offices and a large warehouse space — where volunteers work every week to stuff 1,600 backpacks with food for hungry schoolchildren and their families — the building has a pleasant staff kitchen that also will host healthy cooking classes for clients; a modular classroom that can be divided in two with a retractable wall (and which would love some donated computers, Lightheart said); and a playroom for kids alongside the reception area.

An adjoining space is the new home of the Council for the Homeless' Housing Solutions Center, which aims to transform the intake process for shelter seekers from repeated calls for the same help to a comprehensive assessment of needs -- and a definite "warm handoff" to the right agencies, said assessment coordinator Michael Boldt. The new system is still being tested, Boldt said, and won't "go live" until March 18.

Meanwhile, Share is gearing up for an open house at its new home, at 1:30 p.m. Friday, March 22. Everyone is welcome to visit and tour the building, which is at 2306 N.E. Andresen Road. The Fromhold Service Center was named for the late state Rep. Bill Fromhold, an ardent supporter of Share, who died in 2011.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits;scott.hewitt@columbian.com.