Edwards Center invites public to dedicate fully renovated Aloha Community Center

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Edwards Center Employment Specialist Chelsea Reeder helps client Joni-Sue Wiedmeier use a sensory toy during class. Edwards Center clientele and employees moved into the fully revamped building on the center's 2.5-acre campus in Aloha in January. As impressive as the renovated community building at Edwards Center will seem to anyone used to the aging, outdated facility it replaces, the $3.2 million project is as important for what it symbolizes as the practical purposes it fulfills for clients and employees.

“What we’re trying to do in this building is not just have this place be for adults with disabilities,” says Jessica Leitner, executive director of Edwards Center. “This is all about integration. We’re trying to become part of the fabric of the community.”

After months of construction on the building, which dates to the center’s founding in 1972, the expanded and remodeled Aloha Community Center is up and running. Clients at the nonprofit center, which is dedicated to providing services, guidance, training and employment programs for adults with developmental disabilities, have been enjoying the facility’s amenities since January.

The larger community is invited to check out the improvements to the center located at 20250 S.W. Kinnaman Road in an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 3. Edwards Center founder Jean Edwards will be on hand to dedicate the facility in a 3 p.m. ceremony, with help from guests, including Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten, Portland jazz pianist Tom Grant and opera performers Janet Chvatal and Mark Gremm, accompanied by the Voices Unlimited Singers.

The free event, which includes light refreshments, is open to the public — a message Leitner and her staff want to convey as the Edwards Center enters a new era.

“This is a dedication thanking those who helped get us here, and to celebrate. The goal is to invite the community in to see it,” Leitner says, noting she would like the building to serve as a community focal point. “It’s one thing to take our (mission) out to the community, and another to bring the community in. That’s what we’re trying to do — a reverse integration.”

Renovations to the 11,000-square-foot community center include four classrooms, meeting space for community groups, a kitchen and spacious dining room designed to serve nutritious, low-cost meals in partnership with Meals on Wheels, a cafe to enable job training for adults with developmental disabilities, enlarged restrooms, a wellness clinic, a patio and community gardens, among other amenities.

A new cafe, which is open to the public, enhances the center’s ability to provide employment and training for its clients.

“It’s a chance for the general public to interact (with clients) and provides a pathway to employment in the community,” says Scott Goodwin, the Edwards Center’s grant writer and fund development associate. “We’re trying to provide jobs that are meaningful — gainful employment, something not apart from society but part of everyday life.”

Fundraising for the renovation project, took place throughout the past year and a half, with all but $800,000 of the $3.2 million cost covered through grants and private donations.

“The bricks and mortar pieces are all all private (funds),” Leitner says. “We haven’t requested any public funding.”

Model neighborhood

The new community building is just the beginning of renewal at the Edwards Center. Construction on 10 cottages and houses on the front section of the 2.5-acre property begins this summer. Designed to support multi-generational family living for adults with disabilities, the “Aloha Project” development will feature three- to five-bedroom houses with barrier-free interiors, private outdoor spaces and flexible suites of rooms.

“This model we’re trying to support is one in which everyone has his or her independence respected,” Goodwin says. “We’ll have the ability to accommodate a wide variety of those kinds of dynamics within families.”

“We’re creating a pocket neighborhood,” Leitner said of the housing that will accommodate 35 to 45 residents. “Everybody who lives here is not a person with disabilities, but everybody here (is associated) with someone who has been impacted by disabilities.”

The housing project grew out of a series of planning meetings with Edwards Center stakeholders, who set new goals of expanding low-cost housing options that would promote multigenerational living, in which aging parents with care needs could reside with their developmentally disabled children.

“The one thing we don’t have is family housing,” Leitner says. “So this really represents the last piece in our continuum of care and the vision of our original founders.”

Goodwin, who came on board at Edwards Center three years ago, says the new facility and housing plan represent a culmination of the center’s four decades of efforts to serve the community and its population of developmentally disabled adults.

“It’s been a long process coming up with the vision for the Aloha Community Center,” he says. “For 40 years the center has been working with families to see what their needs are, working through their struggles and triumphs. This is a place where (clients) can feel welcome, comfortable and not feel isolated.”

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