At Take the Next Step in Monroe, creating community is what it's all about. That's why it has worked to embrace the low-income and homeless population in Monroe by providing a safe and welcoming community for those who need it the most.
One of the ways in which the organization serves is with a free community dinner from 6 to 6:45 p.m. every Tuesday. The meals are served at the Monroe Covenant Church (202 S. Sams St.), which is next door to Take the Next Step (TTNS). TTNS was created by members of the Monroe Covenant Church in 2004, becoming formally incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in October 2005. The church provides rent-free use of its former parsonage for TTNS operations.
TTNS works in concert with the church. and since arriving in Monroe in 2007, Monroe Covenant Church pastors Mac and Debbie Taylor have worked to support and enhance TTNS' programs.-á
Free life skills classes take place each week after the community dinners. Topics during the month of June will include renter's certification, Mental Health 101, "Disabled and EmployedGÇ¥ and "Keep it Clean.GÇ¥
The dinners are typically provided and served by different organizations in the Monroe community. The meal on Tuesday, May 26, was served by several members of the Monroe Rotary Club, including Sally Petty and her daughter Hailey, Cindy Chessie, Melissa Keating and Neil Watkins. Monroe City Councilmember Jim Kamp stopped by to support the event, along with Mayor Geoffrey Thomas.
"I'm really happy to have Take the Next Step here,GÇ¥ Thomas said. "If there's anything that our city can ever do to help you, please let me know. Please let our city know.-á
"I'm happy that you have a place to have food tonight,GÇ¥ he continued.
Community Dinner Coordinator Rita Gilfilen helps arrange volunteers to provide the weekly dinners. Numerous Monroe organizations step in to serve, some committing to help out on a monthly basis. Morning Star Lutheran Church and the Monroe Rotary Club provide one dinner each month, and Gilfilen works to create an additional network of volunteer support.
"It makes my job easy because people are so willing to help,GÇ¥ Gilfilen said. "We try and do healthy things because a lot of the people that come don't get a chance to have healthy things.GÇ¥-á
Each organization is responsible for providing the food, serving and cleaning the kitchen area after the meal.-á -á
The dinners, which began in 2005, serve anywhere from 50 to 100 guests served each week. -á-á
More than a meal-á
Monroe Covenant Church member Donna Olson was one of the founders of TTNS. A teacher, Olson taught GED classes along with the life skills aspects of a welfare-to-work program called Washington WorkFirst. The goal of the program was to help low-income families become job-ready and achieve long-term employment.-á
"I could see there's this gap between welfare and what people need,GÇ¥ Olson said.-á
Her students were tasked with building a stable family environment and becoming employable, but they often lacked basic necessities like shampoo GÇô an item that cannot be purchased with food stamps.-á
"I knew that there would be people in town that would help with that, and so Take the Next Step has been a way to connect those needs with people in the community who have a heart to provide for those needs,GÇ¥ Olson said.-á
Last week's dinner event included free health screenings provided by Everett Community College (EvCC) nursing students via a collaboration between the college and TTNS. The relationship began when EvCC instructor and EvergreenHealth Monroe emergency room nurse Shirley Karlsen sought a way to boost the level of hands-on clinical experience for her students.-á
Students in their fourth quarter of the six-quarter nursing program began participating in the dinners, checking blood pressure, lung function, blood sugar and body mass index.
"Usually, in their end-of-the-quarter reflections, this is their best clinical experience that they've had GÇô almost 100 percent,GÇ¥ Karlsen said. "They come in here with preconceived ideas of what they're going to see, and it's always different.GÇ¥ -á
Leftover food is either given to guests to take with them or passed along to the Monroe Gospel Women's Mission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving homeless women in Snohomish County. Dorothy Stima, the organization's founder, provides an array of services, including counseling, spiritual help and housing assistance.-á
In addition to the weekly dinners, TTNS offers several other programs, including an after-school program for kids called Kidz Club; a program for young moms called Growing Together; a cold-weather shelter; and a drop-in community resource center, which provides sack lunches and Internet access.-á
Joe Boranian, 26, has been a community member at Take the Next Step since he was in his teens. He thanked Pastor Mac Taylor for the organization's continual support.
"In the many, many years I've been coming here, you guys helped me out a lot,GÇ¥ Boranian said. "You've brought me back up when I'm down, you've helped me out when I needed it, gave me support when I needed it. You guys are awesome, and I never want to see this place go anywhere.GÇ¥