Fifty years ago on August 15, 1971, a small group of people – including five volunteer Head Start parents – founded a new organization dedicated to fighting poverty and homelessness among the underserved population of South King County.
From that simple beginning, the Multi-Service Center (MSC) has gone from a single office building with a volunteer staff to three offices – one each in Federal Way, Burien, and Kent – with more than 90 full-time employees and over 600 volunteers. “We couldn’t do what we do without volunteers,” says MSC Chief Executive Officer Robin Corak. “Our oldest is 100!” A number of seniors, though, are retiring from volunteering, and the agency always has a need for helping hands. “We try to match people according to their experience and skills,” Corak says.
MSC is one of around 40 partner organization that Solid Ground supports through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a program of AmeriCorps Seniors that matches volunteers with community needs. Currently, MSC’s food bank and the Omsbudsman programs are the two most in need of volunteers. The food bank, which MSC runs to support individuals and families who live in the Federal Way School District, is currently open for drive-through pickup, though the clothing store remains shut down. Some volunteers stay involved in boxing up and packaging food, while others deliver.
The agency’s statewide Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) consists entirely of volunteer advocates for care residents who are trained by MSC staff. But those aren’t the only opportunities. “If someone is interested in volunteering and has a specific skill or interest that is not reflected in existing volunteer opportunities, feel free to reach out to us as there might be an opportunity to create a volunteer position that is of mutual benefit,” Corak says.
The agency’s mission statement reads: “MSC is building a future without poverty by creating pathways to help, hope, and dignity for our neighbors.” It puts a strong emphasis on offering tools to combat poverty and homelessness. These include short-term, emergency shelters for families with at least one child under the age of 18 as well as longer-term residents in the more than 650 housing units that MSC owns in South King and Pierce Counties.
Corak has been with MSC for 20 years and became its CEO 10 years ago. In the wake of the upheaval caused by the shutdown in response to the pandemic, she is pleased by the staff’s agility. She says they “were very flexible and were able to pivot quickly to meet the needs of our customers while still maintaining high safety standards for all staff, volunteers, and guests who were onsite. They have done a fantastic job working remotely, working with our clients.”
Reflecting the agency’s name, MSC offers multiple programs for those experiencing or threatened with homelessness. The agency’s HEART program provides afterschool support with caring adults, while the agency’s extensive education and employment programs are aimed at longer-term solutions to the often systemic obstacles posed by homelessness.
On a personal level, Corak copes with the isolation imposed by COVID protocols by meditating and getting out in nature as much as she can. And, somewhat to her own surprise, she has discovered a new outlet for her artistic side: “I’ve taken up paint-by-numbers for adults. It’s very relaxing.”
MSC remains committed to serving our community despite these incredibly challenging times. As Corak says: “To fulfill our mission of building a future without poverty, we must take a comprehensive approach, which includes providing individual and family services as well as addressing systemic issues.
“The latter includes external actions such as advocating with legislators for needed systems and policy changes, collaborating with grassroots community organizations, educating the community on systemic issues contributing to poverty, and providing outreach to traditionally marginalized communities,” she says. “We also work on addressing systemic issues internally, such as reviewing our policies and protocol using a diversity, equity, and inclusivity lens.”
For more information about MSC, please contact RSVP Coordinator Megan Wildhood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6786.