New director looks to draw the community to the senior center

January 19, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Courtney Jaren, new Issaquah Valley Senior Center executive director, stands before a twice-weekly exercise class at the center. By Greg Farrar

Only one day on the job and Courtney Jaren was busy meeting patrons and making plans at the Issaquah Valley Senior Center.

“We’d like to put out an all-call for volunteers,” she said of her first order of business. “We want people in the community to come volunteer with us, particularly our schools, Rotary or Eagles groups.

“We want to open ourselves up to new generations and embrace the entire community.”

Jaren, 58, is the new executive director for the center. Her first day was Jan. 12; she succeeds Janice Koriath, who left the position at the end October.

The senior center is a nonprofit organization that organizes a variety of senior activities in and outside Issaquah for adults older than 55. It also offers education, recreation and health and wellness programming.

On Jan. 13, Jaren’s schedule was already in full swing with a luncheon with senior center patrons and a public meet-and-greet opportunity at 2 p.m. But that didn’t stop her from getting in early to mingle with some of the students in the morning SAIL, Stay Active and Independent for Life, exercise class.Jaren said she still has a lot of people to meet and a lot of ideas to gather from the community at the senior center, but she has a good program with which to start.

“I’d like to put out a survey to see what they like, what they don’t and what they would like us to have,” like a yoga class, she said. “We have extremely enlightened individuals with great ideas and they are willing to put the energy into those ideas.

“So, it isn’t an uphill battle to bring them to fruition, because we are already a thriving community.”

While she may be new to the job, she’s not new to Issaquah, she said.

“I married a native,” she said of her husband, Mathias Jaren. “He brought me here years ago. For a girl that grew up in the Philadelphia metro area, it was a wonderland for me and I didn’t want to leave.”

However, both their careers took them to California and then to Oregon after having their son, a neurologist, and daughter, a legal recruiter, both in their 30s now.

“Even then, I thought, wouldn’t it be a dream to be the director of the Issaquah senior center,” she said. “It is such a thriving community.”

In California and Oregon, she worked in the legal profession as a dean of a distance-learning law school program and as a senior services director.

She left her position with a senior center in Oregon to take the position in Issaquah, because senior services is her passion and always has been, she said.

“This is a place for them. A lot of times, when people retire, they lose their interest in life and the senior center gives that back to them,” she said. “These are our moms and dads, our grandparents and our aunts and uncles. This is a wonderful place for them to go to be with each other and to be with us, where they feel valued.

“Every day, we can make a difference in someone’s life.

Q&A

Q. What is your educational background (What degree(s) do you hold and from where)?

A. Bachelor of science cum laude in counseling psychology; law degree from University of Minnesota; LLM from Temple Law School; graduate training in French and comparative literature, American history and Scandinavian studies

Q. What other positions have you held?

A. Executive director of a senior center in Oregon; executive director of a town council in California; distance learning dean for a law school in California; founding director of the Indian Law Program at an Oregon law school; worked in Seattle at Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens, Area Agency on Aging, and as regional representative for U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson

Q. What goals do you have for 2010?

A. To build on the excellent legacy for which the center is known — hopefully with the help of Tommie Troutman, who has graciously consented to be my mentor! (Troutman is a former director of the senior center.)

Q. What do you bring to this role that is new and innovative?

A. A diverse background in training and experience, the patience of Job, a willingness to listen actively and help where needed, and a strong desire to make a difference!

Q. What challenges do you see for the senior center in the year to come?

A. There are always economic challenges for nonprofit organizations and now these challenges are even more pressing. I am hopeful the center will continue to receive generous support from the city. We are sincerely grateful for the city’s support this year. We hope King County will provide additional funding and look forward to working with the county to make this happen.

Q. What is something you are looking forward to experiencing in the city?

A. Hiking along the trails in the three mountains, listening to the rush of the creek, attending theater performances, going to galleries and antique shops, meeting the people, joining the Episcopal church, and in short, just enjoying life here.

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