Serenity Court closure leaves gap in services on Bainbridge

Serenity Program Coordinator Jay Zosa holds a collage memorializing former Serenity Court resident Jack Norris, who died in an accident one week after being moved from the house. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Serenity Program Coordinator Jay Zosa holds a collage memorializing former Serenity Court resident Jack Norris, who died in an accident one week after being moved from the house.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

After a year of uncertainty, Serenity Court will close its doors for good next week.

Closure of the group home for developmentally disabled adults, owned by Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority and managed by Low Income Housing Institute, has been expected since April 2008. The historic Lynwood Center house and surrounding property are up for sale. .

The closure has left a gaping hole in disabled services on Bainbridge and scattered a close-knit community of adults and staff.

All 18 adults living in the home a year ago have been relocated to outside group homes. Only two are now living in homes on the island.

“It’s very quiet,” Serenity Program Coordinator Jay Zosa said, amid packing boxes at the house this week. “It’s just very sad.”

Zosa and Wendy Mitchell, who directs Serenity for LIHI, will finish cleaning the building and vacate by the end of March. Serenity’s 10 staff members are now looking for jobs.

Meanwhile, the Serenity facility, and it’s 3.37 acres, are being listed for KCCHA by island real estate broker Marillyn McLauchlin. The price for the property has fluctuated in recent months. It was listed initially at $2.2 million before going up slightly after a property assessment and then being reduced this month to $1.95 million.

KCCHA executive director Debbie Broughton said the price has been lowered to garner interest in the property, which has yet to receive a full-price bid.

Still, those involved in the property’s sale say negotiations are under way. The housing authority is considering a low bid that has been made on the property, Broughton said.

Proceeds of the sale will be used to help pay off a state Housing Trust Fund loan for $1.5 million. The loan was given to KCCHA to secure Serenity House in 2005. The funding was meant to provide placement for 16 developmentally disabled residents on the island for the next 30 years.

Bainbridge Mayor Darlene Kordonowy, who as a KCCHA board member has been involved in the fate of Serenity residents and the property, said she still hopes some residents can return to the island despite the loss of the home.

“I am still emotionally involved and I am still committed to see what we can do to bring some of those people back,” she said

After announcing its intention to close Serenity last year, KCCHA considered several plans for relocating most of the house’s residents to homes on the island. One plan called for selling a portion of the property to fund the development of several smaller group homes.

But as the year progressed, the agency was ravaged by the financial crisis and lowered its involvement in social services to focus on providing low-income housing in the county. The sale of Serenity will effectively end KCCHA’s involvement in developmentally disabled care.

“(KCCHA) is going to be completely out of this,” said Broughton. “We’re returning the money to the Trust Fund and that releases us from the obligation.”

The closure leaves only one adult developmentally disabled facility on the island, Hope House, which serves six residents. Two of Serenity’s former residents are now at Hope House.

Donna Dahlquist, Helpline House’s developmental disabilities program manager, believes the closure of Serenity highlights the lack of care on the island for disabled adults.

“We are way behind the ball when it comes to providing this kind of service to other residents,” said Dahlquist, who helped transition many of the Serenity residents into new homes. “We’ve been making a lot of backwards movement in the past couple years.”

New home on the horizon

There is a possibility, however, that a new adult group home could open on Bainbridge this year.

It was confirmed last week that Group Action for Peninsula People, a nonprofit based out of Gig Harbor, will be buying the Manzanita home with money from the Housing Trust Fund. HTF will use money repaid to it by KCCHA for the purchase.

According to Donna Bowen, GAPP’s executive director, Hope House staff will likely run the Manzanita facility, and that they will attempt to bring back some of those displaced from Serenity.

Bowen, said the renovated six-person island facility will not be ready for at least five months.

“We’re brand new to the area, but we’re excited to expand out there and service the people out there,” Bowen said. “There will be six residents (at the Manzanita facility), and we’re planning on six who were displaced from Serenity House.

“I feel really bad that it hadn’t been done before,” Bowen said. “This home was purchased last year, and it should have been up and running before those people were even moved out.”

Longtime Serenity employee Marilyn Boyce said KCCHA is at fault for closing Serenity and not following through with plans to keep residents on the island.

“I put the blame on them,” Boyce said. “They didn’t follow through with the promises they made. I truly believe it didn’t have to happen this way.”

Disbanding a community

The pain of Serenity Court’s closure is still fresh for many familiar with the home.

Some residents and staff members had shared the house for decades. While the state has made it clear that it would no longer sanction large boarding house-style facilities, the diverse group of people who called Serenity home shared an undeniable bond.

Ranging in age from early 20s to the 90s, the residents shared a warren of rooms upstairs and ate meals together in the cafeteria. Some boarded buses during the day to attend programs at Helpline House or on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Over the last year residents have been relocated one-by-one. The last resident left the house March 18.

For some the move has been less traumatic than expected.

Suquamish resident Jessie Katz said her brother, Cliff, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was lucky to be one of the Serenity residents who has stayed on Bainbridge and has settled in well at Hope House. If a bed had not been open on the island, Katz said, the alternative probably would have been Bremerton.

“That would have been a long, long way,” Katz said. “It was extremely important for him to stay close.”

But the move has been hard for many.

Jack Norris, a low-functioning resident who lived at Serenity for decades, died in an accident March 13, just one week after being moved to Bremerton. Norris’ sister, Lynda Voigt, said that while her brothers sudden death was tragic, she was grateful for the many years he had lived at Serenity.

“It was such a great place,” she said. “We’re all so sorry to see it close.”

The closure has left a void at Lynwood Center where Serenity’s more mobile residents made frequent visits to the business center down the hill.

“There are a lot of people here that really loved those people,” said Walt Hannon, owner of Walt’s Lynwood Center Market. “When they were here they were part of the community, and that part is gone now.”

However, at least two former Serenity residents have been making bus trips back to Lynwood Center to visit and sip free sodas despite being relocated off the island.

Hannon has been getting weekly visits from his old friend Jerome Hicks, who after more than 20 years at Serenity has been moved to a home in Bremerton. Treehouse Cafe owner Arnie Sturham was happy to see former Serenity resident Ron Denning at his restaurant this week.

“They’re getting by but they miss the island,” Sturham said. “They were as much a part of this neighborhood as anyone else.”

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