Council House director by day and performer at night, Stephen Mitchell uses his creativity to make life for retirees entertaining.
He recently brought a busload of Council House residents to see the play “South Pacific” at Civic Light Opera, in which he portrayed the leading role of Emile DeBecque. Trips like this are offered to residents two to three times per month and encourage the retirees to get to know each other, said Mitchell.
“Primarily, we’ve worked to build the community and make the community strong and get the residents more involved in the process,” said Mitchell.
He said it’s easy to get stuck in the office doing paperwork, but it’s imperative to be there for the residents. Mitchell said he would like to provide challah and candles on Fridays, for the start the Sabbath, as one way of getting Jewish and non-Jewish residents involved in the Council House community.
“We’ve had all walks of life here,” said Mitchell. Everyone is accepting of each other’s cultures and they celebrate each other’s cultures, he said. “I think that’s something that makes us unique.”
Council House, a 13-story, 164-unit active retirement building on Capitol Hill, gets its name from the National Council of Jewish Women, who established the house in 1972 for Seattle’s low-income elderly, ages 62 and older. It became the first retirement home in Washington to be built by a women’s organization with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mitchell, who was Council House’s service coordinator for five years, became its director on July 1. Mitchell said he misses all of the informal discussion he had with the residents as the service coordinator, but he likes helping to direct the future of the building. When he makes decisions at Council House, he thinks of how he would do things at his own home.
When he started at Council House, he was the first to be employed in the building’s social service department. He said he was excited about starting the program there.
“I suddenly inherited 160 grandparents and became invested in what happened here,” said Mitchell.
Things have been hectic since he started his new position as president, he said. Currently, electric increases are having a big impact on Council House. Changes include new phone systems, improvement to the exhaust in the laundry room, the current windows being replaced with more energy-efficient ones and more energy-efficient washing machines replacing the old ones. A recent $2 million renovation replaced the plumbing, put in a sprinkler system and will replace the current doors with automatic doors.
“The list for what we want to do in the future is huge,” said Mitchell.
When the last earthquake hit, it knocked out both elevators. Council House staff ran up 12 flights of stairs to make sure the residents were okay and everyone was fed, said Mitchell.
“It proved we have a very, very strong building,” he said. The damage to both elevators, now working, was $30,000.
Mitchell said the earthquake also proved that the staff could work together as a team in providing the best service it could, despite the circumstances. The staff takes a deep interest in its residents, he said.
“The staff knows almost everyone’s name who lives here,” said Mitchell.
The house offers a resident art gallery, exercise classes, art classes, movie nights, a barber, occasional guest performers, evening concerts and lectures. Dinners are also offered Monday through Friday. Once a month, the Ida Weinstein Memorial Luncheon takes place at the Council House, in memory of former volunteer Edythe Weinstein’s late mother-in-law, who had lived at Council House the year before her death. Mondays at 11:30 a.m., Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath Congregation, in the basement of Council House, has services with Orthodox Rabbi Warner.
On June 28 from 12:30–2:30 p.m., the Council House will host a Women’s Community Health Fair, thanks to a grant awarded by the Women’s Endowment Foundation. Invited organizations include the Public Health Department, the Seattle Police Department, the Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center, the American Heart Association, the Arthritis Foundation, plus massage therapists and The Seattle Fire Department will be there to give free blood-pressure checks. Admission is free.
“We really want to make the Jewish community more aware of us,” said Mitchell.
Council House is located at 1501 17th Ave. in Seattle. Call 206-323-0344, ext. 203 for more information about Council House activities.