Plenty of optimism at Share's grand opening

Late state Rep. Fromhold's attitude and legacy are invoked as agency unveils new home, promises more will come

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Bill Fromhold loved a party and loved helping people. He would have loved the grand opening that honored his legacy on Friday.

That's what the widow, family, friends and admirers of the late Democratic state representative said while officially unveiling the Share Fromhold Service Center at 2306 N.E. Andresen Road. Hundreds of people, including local politicians and many who work in social services, turned out to cheer the completed renovation of what used to be Timber Lanes Bowling Alley.

Share, a leading Vancouver nonprofit that provides emergency shelter, hot meals and more for homeless and hungry people, moved its offices, its staff of 37 and many of its client functions to the building about a month ago.

"Bill was a positive, energetic person — an optimist to the very depths of his soul," said Marcia Fromhold, his widow. "He would literally whistle his way through his morning routine." Fromhold said her late husband's same sense of optimism animates Share's new building and all its programs — "whether it's a hot meal, housing or a backpack full of food." Share believes

what Bill believed, she said: Today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today.

"The honor you've given Bill by naming the center after him would leave Bill humbled," she said. "Bill loved a good party, and he would have loved this celebration." Bill Fromhold died of leukemia in September 2010.

CDM neighbor

While Share has been doing business out of its new headquarters since late February, there were some new announcements at the Friday afternoon grand opening, with its ribbon-cutting, tours and speeches in a dignitary-rich environment.

The news was this: CDM Services, a sister nonprofit that provides adult day care, therapies and assisted living services so older people can stay in their homes, has purchased a chunk of the Fromhold Service Center's large parking lot, and will strive to raise the funds to build a building there.

The land purchase was facilitated when longtime Share benefactors Kate Jones and Marty Rifkin and their KMR Group Foundation offered a $150,000 matching grant. CDM raised its $150,000, and executive director Eric Erickson said he'd soon deliver a $300,000 check to Share to seal the deal.

"We can't wait to be your neighbors here," Erickson said. But the overall plan is still fluid, he told The Columbian; it's not certain whether CDM will move out of its current headquarters on Broadway in downtown Vancouver — a building that doesn't fit CDM's current needs, he said — or simply add the eventual second building to its holdings. Such decisions are a long way off, Erickson said.

Share president Peter Fels said Share and CDM represent "different ends of the same continuum" — an agency working against homelessness and an agency working to keep people in their homes.

Also announced Friday is that the busy Volunteer Center in Share's new home will be named for John McDonagh, publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal and a longtime Share supporter and board member, who was president of the organization for 8 years. An anonymous donor paid $100,000 to name the room for McDonagh.

Fels said it was McDonagh's idea to centralize Share's scattered offices in one place. Naming the room for him was suggested by Share staff and approved unanimously by the Share board, Fels said.

McDonagh said the day's celebration was "not about the facility but what the facility means to the community, as a tool to end homelessness."

Contractor Ron Frederiksen of RSV Building Solutions recalled that Diane McWithey, Share's executive director, was full of skepticism as she first took him to look at a rather run-down bowling alley. But Frederikson, looking through Share's optimistic lens, realized the unlikely opportunity would work.

"We looked at five other buildings," he said, but there was no doubt: "This one's the deal."

Still bricking

The transformation of Timber Lanes as the Share Fromhold Service Center cost $5.5 million, most of it raised from private sources. The project, from building purchase to completed renovation, took nearly 5 years. The 23,000-square-foot building now includes all of Share's staff offices, including its transitional-housing program, street-outreach program, housing and essential needs program, volunteer center, classrooms, play area for children, kitchens for staff and for volunteers, and a 5,430-square-foot warehouse that houses donations as well as Share's Backpack and Holiday Cheer programs.

Plus, the Council for the Homeless started operating its new Housing Solutions Center in one room of the building this week. The center is a one-call resource where people seeking emergency housing are interviewed and evaluated for all the services they may need.

There's still a little fundraising to be done. Fels said the building will be debt-free as soon as Share sells all the personalized bricks that are going in the building's entrance. Bricks start at $200. Visit sharevancouver.org to learn more, or call 360-448-2121.

"I can't believe we're really here," said McWithey. "I'm just really sorry Bill couldn't be here with us. We first sat down to lunch and talked about this idea" in the early 2000s, she said, and after that, "He was with us every step of the way."

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