“If you got in a cab and said, Take me to the Center for Community building, no one would know where to take you. That’s it… They would think it’s the Sitka Medical Building. Lots of time if we want to have pizza delivered to a board meeting I have to say, You know — where Sitka Medical and Sitka Vision are – the Center for Community building.”

Despite being well-camouflaged, the Center for Community has grown into one of Sitka’s economic players. Its annual budget of $4.3 million is down somewhat from its pre-recession peak of $6.5 million, but it still employs 148 people – making it Sitka’s eighth-largest employer, just behind the Hames Corporation.

Around 50 CFC staff are based in Sitka, the rest are distributed in villages, and in Juneau and Anchorage, where the Center for Community goes by the name Compass Homecare.

Sipe said CFC is now thirty-two years old. It started out as Sitka PACS  – or, Parents Advocating for Children with Special needs – one of several community PACS around the state. Sipe says the Center’s low profile is intentional.

“If you think about it there’s not a single event during the year that’s for Center for Community. A decision was made a long time ago that Center for Community would try to earn its way and support itself, because most of our clients, if not dealing with low-income issues, were dealing with long-term care issues, someone with special needs in their family, an elderly person who was chronically ill. They already had other burdens besides us asking them for money.”

Sipe explained that Center for Community’s funding came from a combination of state grants, federal grants administered by the state, and Medicaid billing. Sipe said that in Alaska, where there are no county governments, non-profits often take the place of county social services or human welfare departments. And business, she said, was growing.

“The only growth in jobs in the last couple years statewide and in Southeast has been in health and social service jobs. We are the fastest growing industry – but you never get your people featured in the political ads. I guess it’s because we don’t wear hardhats when we go into the homes. I guess if we could wear pink hardhats we would get more play.”

Sipe tried to distinguish services provided by Center for Community from other providers such as Sitka Community Hospital’s home health care program. Sipe said CFC was the day-to-day agency for home and community-based services for persons with disabilities and the elderly. CFC does NOT provide nursing. Sipe said “We scrub toilets,” as well as provide other services and chores from simple meal preparation to helping people bathe.

But some CFC programs extend beyond simple assistance: The center has an Early Learning Program for children up to three years old; a Vocational Rehabilitation program for people with disabilities or other barriers to employment; and it runs the Community Ride, Sitka’s public transit system.

The Ride has evolved as a partnership between the Center for Community, Southeast Senior Services, and the Sitka Tribe. And while the program is successful and expanding, Sipe could not easily conceal her feelings about who she considers the missing player.

 “We are lacking in city partnership. The city hasn’t been involved much since the early days. The city does give about $24,000 a year to maintain and fuel the Swan Lake Senior Center vans (as part of their initial agreement with Senior Services)… so they don’t fuel or maintain our blue buses, and we spend all that money in town. We put about $1.2 million on the road and it’s here: it’s local gas, local mechanics, it’s more jobs.”

Despite the broad scope of its services, Sipe suggested that the Center for Community could no longer afford to remain invisible. The agency launched its first fundraiser in thirty years last summer to rebuild its roof – a $700,000 bill that CFC will tackle with a combination of grants and property sales. Donations alone, Sipe said, would never cover the tab, but the demonstration of community support was critical. Pointing to the envelopes on the table, she reminded Chamber members that “We are the non-profit that has never come knocking before.”
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