Passing the Torch: Sara Boyle, New Lead at Orcas Senior Center New survey, new challenge grant, new programs "We have a lot of potential"

(This is the second in a series of articles about new leadership at Orcas Island institutions)

–by Margie Doyle, updated Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. —

Jami Mitchell and Sara Boyle at the Orcas Senior Center

Sara Boyle brings new enthusiasm and direction as she joins the leadership team at the Senior Center as Executive Director of the Orcas Senior Center, the Orcas District of the Senior Services Council of San Juan County 501(c)3 Nonprofit. It’s a mouthful, but Sara brings a vibrant presence to her position at the Senior Center near the intersection of Mount Baker and North Beach Roads.

She answers to the board of the Orcas Senior Center Operations Committee (a non-profit organization), chaired by Bonnie Burg. Sara steps into the duties remaining when Arron Redford resigned from the position as Director in September.

With the Center’s new motto, “Age Well on Orcas,” Sara will coordinate a multi-faceted community center with programs ranging from medical services to living assistance to recreation. Sara’s concerns are “How do we give to all ages and make it a community center, not just because members may need help?”

The leadership team  also retains Jami Mitchell as the Senior Services Specialist, serving under County Senior Services Manager Wendy Stephens. Jami’s work involves transportation and nutrition services, coordination of caregivers, respite and payments for home caregivers (COPES)

Sara came to the Senior Center last May as the Communication and Fundraising Administrator and is excited to take on her new role in further support of the OSC and the Orcas community.

After some restructuring, the new position of Executive Director of the Orcas Senior Center was created, with Sara’s duties in development following her. “This seems natural,” says Sara. It also seems smart, considering Sara’s impressive record of development, constituent communication and data analysis.

She is a San Diego native; she grew up with “mostly guys” and had a “Man of Honor” standing by her at her wedding. She attended Sonoma State College, and graduated with a BA in human services psychology. Her career began working in group homes and with veterans employment. “What I really wanted to be was a social worker, and I was grandfathered into a job in Sonoma after three-plus years.”

Sara describes her job in northern California as a “reconnaissance person in the Rogue River Valley, so I appreciate what Jami and Delphina [Liles, Aging and Family Case Coordinator for the county] do.”

After working so intensively with families for a number of years, Sara then decided to relocate to San Diego to be closer to her own family. There she worked with American Specialty Health (ASH), whose mission is “to develop specialty health care programs and to integrate them into traditional medical plans offered by Fortune 500 employers, insurance companies, and health plans,” (from the ASH website).

Sara started out at first in the organization’s “Healthy Roads” program supervising telephonic health coaches; then she moved up to Quality Clinical Analysis. “I love statistics!” Sara says, and she won awards for her work with medical directors in constructing surveys for the National Institute of Health. She branched out to becoming a business consultant, doing by herself what she had previously supervised teams of 20 to do — “planning, tasks, roles and responsibilities a lot of time doing admin work — mailing and paperwork.”

Then she married and she and her husband wanted to get out of San Diego. They honeymooned on Orcas, and fell in love with it. After visiting other islands and nearby mainland communities, the couple decided on Orcas. “We looked at the schools’ impact of the community, and felt our kids would not be just a number; we were also impressed by the number of non-profits — that speaks to the community. Plus, we’re major hikers and foodies so we really enjoy our island surroundings,”

The tipping point came when the Senior Center came looking for a development and outreach person. “I’d been working for myself, and that can feel like working all the time. And after spending years in the corporate arena, I loved being a social worker. That is where my heart lives. And I’ve been doing fund raisers all my life.”

So when offered the position as Communication and Fundraising Administrator she and her husband Devon (and their dog Lucy) moved to Orcas. Her work at the Senior Center started with enhancing systems, working mail merge and blast announcements. Soon, with a Community Foundation grant application for a Feasibility Study to identify and prioritize the highest unmet needs of those who choose to “age in place” on Orcas, Sara took the lead in that process, which was fully funded. After hosting focus group meetings last summer, the next step in the study is participation in the Senior Center Survey, “How do we Build a Vital Future?” Results of that survey will guide future actions.

The Senior Center hopes to flesh out the needs and resources for those wanting to remain in their homes on Orcas Island. The study will determine the needs of “the Silver Tsunami,” the growing demographic of island residents over 60. Boyle says,”Some of those needs may be additional transportation, home maintenance, personal care, and creating a comprehensive support system for a fast-growing population.”

Everyone, of all ages, is encouraged to respond to this survey. It asks that you think about yourself as you age and become elderly, regardless of your current age. Individual answers will remain anonymous and will not be shared. However, the overall results of the survey, in aggregate form, will be widely communicated to the Island community.

(To complete the survey, visit the Orcas Senior Center website ( or directly access via Paper versions of the survey are available at the Orcas Senior Center (360-376-2677). This Survey will be only open for a limited time and takes 15-20 minutes to complete.

Another important new project being undertaken by the Senior Center is a challenge grant that could bring in over $100,000 for new initiatives and workshops. An anonymous group of islanders will offer $50,000, provided the Center raises at least $50,000 by contributors to the Center.

The Center has had a number of gatherings to determine the greatest needs that such initiatives may fund. The top two are:

  1. to provide a “navigator,” a one-stop information resource, much like the SHIBA medicare volunteers or the Affordable Care Act healthcare navigators in 2013?
  2. to revamp the Hearts and Hands program, now with a new director, Tom Eversole ( The program changes would be positioned to “offer more than volunteers for service,” says Boyle. Some initiatives may be more recreational, such as a travel club (a cruise to Alaska is planned for next summer),  a sock hop dance, coffee hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, recipe sharing, and the like. survey launch to a bigger study; age demographics

Senior Center members will vote for the Orcas Senior Center Operations Committee (a non-profit organization) Membership votes Board members up for renewal are:

  • Bonnie Morris
  • Margo Rubel
  • Jerry Todd

They will join the other Board members:

  • Bonnie Burg (Chair)
  • Maggie Kaplan (Vice-Chair)
  • Doug and Judy Schliebus
  • Margot Shaw

With the restructuring of the duties of Executive Director, overseeing oversee the office and activities as well as planning and development, a part-time administrative assistant is being sought for the Senior Center. To view the application, go to

Coming up soon is the Holiday Festival of the Arts, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25. In addition to booths showcasing local arts and crafts, this annual event includes “Party in a Basket” raffles, a Baked Good sale, and a silent auction for quilts from the Quilters Club and island quilter Karen Blinn, and a blanket made by Orcas Christian School students.  Raffle tickets are on sale at the Orcas Senior Center now.

Regular programs at the Senior Center include:

  • exercise events such as Chair Yoga,  Tai Chi, strength training and balance classes
  • trips to local attractions such as Island Pie restaurant, Mount Baker Farm and the Seattle Art Museum
  • Quilting Club
  • renting mobility equipment
  • transportation for mainland medical appointments
  • foot care nurses
  • lunches three times a week transportation and and home delivered meals.

In this marvelous mix of service, fun and business, Sara says, “Here we are and we have a lot of potential. People just jump in and support our non-profits to thrive, not just survive. “

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