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Snohomish's "Happy Place"

The Woman Behind the Happiness at the Senior Center

There is a certain energy when you walk into the Snohomish Senior Center, and it’s not because of the Bingo. 

Sharon Burlison, Snohomish Senior Center Director, will meet you at the door with a smile, a story, and maybe even a cup of cocoa. She’s not the only reason the center is deemed the “happy place,” but she’s a big part of it. 

Member Carol Sack says the center is a completely different place than it was when she first walked through the doors 11 years ago, and that’s because of Burlison.

“Sharon cares about this place,” said Sack. “A lot. And she’s compiled a really great team. It’s obvious they like being here, and we feel it.” 

Burlison, who has been at the center for seven years, said she was considering joining the board when she found out they were looking for a new director. 

“I knew at that moment that I didn’t want to be on the board,” she said. “I wanted to be the director. I talked myself into the idea that I had all the ingredients needed to lift this place up.”

A Snohomish native for more than 30 years, Burlison has had her hand in a wide array of community affairs – from PTO president to YMCA director, to owner of the Snoho Mojo espresso stand.  

“Senior centers can be pretty cold and stale,” she said. “But we take a lot of pride in the fact that our center is extremely close and very family-oriented. We treat everyone here how we’d want our loved ones – our own parents or grandparents – to be treated.”

Susan Hutchinson, a senior center member, moved from Camano Island to Lake Stevens a year and a half ago when she put her husband in a memory care facility. Having been his full-time caregiver for eight years, Hutchinson said she didn’t even know who she was anymore. So when a friend told her to check out the Snohomish Senior Center, she did – and that’s where she met Burlison.

“You’re only a stranger the first time you walk in,” said Hutchinson. “She’s the juice for this whole place. And I know it’s because she has a passion for it. It’s not just a job to her.” 

After joining, Hutchinson joined the grief support group, and after about six months talked to Burlison about starting another group for people who were ready to move beyond their grief. They called it “Resilient Living,” which Hutchinson now leads with her friend, and is just one of the many programs offered, including daily weekday lunches, Seahawks viewing parties, Bible studies, wood carving, and more. Burlison explained how she stays open-minded to new program ideas, continually seeking to meet the current needs of members.

“Her door is always open,” added Hutchinson. “She loves seeing the difference the center can make in the lives of members.”

But staff and members would agree that the beauty is not in the programs.  Whether it’s walking hand in hand through the loss of a loved one, discovering life on the other side of grief, or finding comfort in an ice cream sundae on a Friday afternoon – the deep relationships are what make the center unique. 

“Magic happens when you have relationships,” said Burlison. “These people mean a lot to me.”

Burlison plans to stay at the senior center for five to six more years before she and her husband retire but will continue looking for ways to serve her community, and said she hopes people will remember the center when considering volunteer opportunities, community involvement, or monetary donations, as senior centers can often fall off the radar. 

“I’ve always thought of Snohomish as a little big town,” she said. “We are a strong community because we support our businesses, are involved in our schools, and believe in the organizations that provide for our youth, seniors and those in need.”

Others, however, may argue that Snohomish is a strong community because of members like Burlison. 

To learn more about the Snohomish Senior Center, become a member, or make a monetary donation, visit http://www.snohomishcenter.org/. 

“We are a strong community because we support our businesses, are involved in our schools, and believe in the organizations that provide for our youth, seniors and those in need.” ~ Sharon Burlison

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