methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Room One
Methow social services hub

A modest little house on a back street in Twisp shelters a dynamic constellation of social services that serve the entire Methow Valley. Anyone touring its comfortable and well-used interior with Karissa McLane, executive director of Room One, will hear descriptions of a gutsy array of homegrown and government agency programs that happen under this roof and elsewhere.

Room One started in 1998 as a health and human resource center in Room One of the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp, hence the name. It has evolved into a much broader social service center that has hopscotched about town as more space was needed. Now it is the valley’s social services hub, attempting to meet numerous health and service needs, according to McLane.

The core programs are 75 percent funded locally and run by a four-person staff, a board of directors, and dozens of volunteers. They are tightly focused on three goals: decreasing domestic violence, improving the health of parents and children and teaching life skills to young adults.

In addition, Room One serves as host space, an outstation, for numerous county and state services and classes. There also is a work station to help clients submit applications for state Department of Social and Health Services assistance. Thus anyone in need of help can walk in the door at 315 Lincoln St. S. in Twisp and find direct assistance, a referral or the basic information to help make a decision. In 2009, about 800 people walked through the door. In 2010, Room One had 2,263 visits to its support groups and services and made 1,345 referrals.

“Isolation is always a factor in domestic violence,” McLane explains, returning to one of the organization's primary goals. But in an isolated, rural community the challenge is even greater. So what services does Room One provide? If a client arrives in crisis right after an incident, “we can get them into a shelter,” she says. Sometimes the client has left the abuser, and when they walk in the door the question is, “Now what?” Occasionally, the client is still involved in the abusive relationship and Room One’s role is education. Support groups named "Breaking the Silence" and "Non-Violent Communication" address what constitutes domestic violence and how to prevent it.

Many Room One activities help improve the health of parents and children. There is a library of parenting and health books and a baby-clothing exchange room. In addition, several state and county programs use space including Okanogan Family Planning and the state’s Women, Infants and Children program, which runs parenting classes for pregnant women and those with children under age five.

The baby-item exchange room at Room One accepts maternity clothes and clothing and other items for infants and children up to age four. Donations of winter coats for adults also are appreciated. Clothing is free to those in need.

Room one offers cooking classes both for the mothering group and to students at the Independent Learning Center alternative school. The ingredients may be from the Red Shed produce project, which has been part of Room One for about five years. The shed is an organic vegetable garden project. Food raised is donated free to low-income families through Room One, the Cove – the valley’s food bank – and the Methow Valley Family Practice medical clinic in Twisp.

Each year, public school students in grades seven through 12 can attend a program that teaches sexuality and how to form healthy relationships.

McLane says receiving no state or federal benefits is “a blessed position” in this day of massive budget cuts that have government-funded social and health services struggling to regroup. Among other blessings she counts are an annual grant from the Moccasin Lake Foundation, which was increased this year, and the many local supporters.

The economic recession and federal and state budget cuts have pinched social services drastically while boosting the need for them. For example, McLane says a mental health counselor used to come to Room One from Okanogan two days a week. But in November of 2010 the position was eliminated. “We went for eleven months without a counselor in the building,” McLane says. “At one time we had eight clients with mental health issues all at the same time.”

The only options were to refer the clients to counselors in Okanogan, refer them to local counselors if they had insurance, or to take care of them as best as the non-counselor staff could. “We call it mental health first aid,” McLane adds. Recently, counseling services have been reinstated two days a month for the Methow Valley thanks to a partnership between Room One, Family Health Centers, and Okanogan Behavioral Health Care. McLane says she is very grateful.

Another cut that severely affected Room One clients was the closure of the state Department of Social and Health Services outstation in Twisp. It used to have a person at Room One three days a week.

“DSHS is coming up with solutions that are better than nothing but not ideal,” McLane says. The agency created a call center, for example, but there were terribly long waits and many calls were dropped. It also has gone from in-person to an online application process. Of course, that assumes those who need state services have access to a computer. Room One can help with applications and faxing required information, she adds. And a recent welcome change is that a DSHS caseworker has been assigned to the Methow Valley and there is “a direct phone line to that caseworker.”

Another example of working around a budget crunch is what’s happened to the services of Okanogan County Family Planning. In better times, a registered nurse came to the Methow Valley from Okanogan. Now, Laura Brumfield, a nurse practitioner and the school nurse for the Methow Valley School District, is available at Room One on Wednesday afternoons. Dotti Wilson is the clinic’s receptionist and receives receptionist’s pay, but because she also is a registered nurse, she donates her nursing skills. No one is turned away from the clinic for lack of ability to pay, whether it be for a Pap smear, a pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease test or birth control information. Clients range in age from 14 to 40s, Wilson says.

McLane says some social service providers are beginning to accept that their budgets will be neither spared nor restored anytime soon. The new question is: How can local communities solve problems without state and federal money?

Perhaps Room One, which supports and hosts many other groups and classes, will become a model for other communities. In addition to the services mentioned thus far, there is a breast cancer support group, another group for those suffering from grief and loss and yet another for suicide bereavement. And there are classes such as childbirth and herbal health. For more information call 997-2050, email or visit

In August, Room One published a 54-page Resource Guide for Methow Valley Residents with information on everything from how to report child and elder abuse to where children without medical insurance can get care.

The newest project is a comprehensive social services needs assessment for the Methow Valley to identify needs met and unmet. Erin Flahive, a Vista volunteer is on a one-year assignment to do the assessment. The results will be made public and will guide Room One’s strategic planning.

“One need that often comes up is employment,” the need for more jobs in the valley, McLane says. But the need that surprised her most when she took her job is “housing.” This time of year when seasonal employment runs out and the weather changes, “people who’ve been camping or living in trailers need assistance.”

The Okanogan County Housing Authority is the only source of subsidized housing, McLane says, and right now the county has a five-year waiting list. She adds that there are several tiers of waiting lists. For example, if someone is homeless because of domestic violence, they have a higher priority.

If there seems no end to the needs, there also seems no end to offers of help. McLane says she feels fortunate to be in a valley with so many “caring and supportive people.” She grew up here. She’s a 2001 graduate of Liberty Bell High School and a graduate of Western Washington University, where she studied community health. “I did a lot of volunteering when I was in high school,” she says. “And I always said when I went away to school that if I came back here I would want to work at Room One.”

She finished college and moved to Mississippi for two years, doing hurricane relief work and starting a program to train women in construction. Then she moved home and found the executive directorship of Room One open. She applied and has been on the job for a little more than two years. “We have such an incredible team here... I feel so lucky.”



Soup Dinner

About one quarter of Room One’s annual budget is raised at the Soup Dinner, held each October to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness month. This year’s event was Saturday, Oct. 29 at The Barn in Winthrop.

“We’ve always sold out,” says Karissa McLane, Room One executive director. Only 200 tickets are available each year.

Those who attend take home a bowl painted by community members as part of an all-year project. There was also a silent auction of soup bowls painted by local artists.

Anyone can host a bowl painting party. Typically a $10 donation is made to cover the cost of the bowls and paint. For more information, or to schedule a painting party, call Room One at 997-2050.

Pictures from this year's event (click to enlarge):

Room One Staff

Karissa McLane
Executive Director

Adrianne Moore
Outreach Worker

Sarah Longino-DeKalb
Outreach Worker

Erin Flahive
Vista Volunteer

Dotti Wilson
Okanogan Family Planning Receptionist, Nurse