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Recreation center for Whatcom residents with developmental disabilities is moving

Bellingham Herald - 12/23/2019

Dec. 23--BELLINGHAM -- A center that gives hundreds of Whatcom County residents with developmental disabilities a place to play and make friends is moving to a larger space in early 2020.

The expansion means that Max Higbee Center will be able to serve more teens and adults than it can in its current 1,500-square-foot location on Bay Street, the organization's officials said in a news release.

The Bellingham nonprofit's new home at 1400 N. State St. will be 5,000 square feet.

The center serves over 400 people ages 13 and older, providing them with recreational programs and social opportunities. Still, it's had to turn away people because its current space is too small.

There are 46 people on its waitlist, Kait Whiteside, the center's executive director, told to The Bellingham Herald.

She's troubled that the center hasn't been able to meet a growing need in the community.

"It's a tough place because there isn't another agency, another community resource like Max Higbee Center that provides weekly, year-round programs," Whiteside said.

The center will be able to help 61 more people within the first year of moving into its new, larger home, she said.

Having a place for its clients to engage with the community and each other is important, according to Whiteside.

"It reduces isolation and loneliness, which disproportionately impacts people with developmental disabilities," she said.

The program also benefits families, giving them a chance to rest, go to appointments or take care of everyday life such as grocery shopping while their teen or adult is at the center.

Such support is important given that about 50% of adults with developmental disabilities in Whatcom County live with their families, according to Whiteside.

Funding for the remodel comes from a number of grants. They include:

-- $280,000 from the city of Bellingham through its public facilities and improvement grant. Federal dollars fund that grant.

"This is a project the city is thrilled to support," said Samya Lutz, Housing and Services Program manager for Bellingham.

-- $50,000 from First Federal Community Foundation.

-- $10,000 from the Foster Foundation.

The center also has launched a campaign on GoFundMe to raise at least another $60,000 for the renovation.

Gayland Gump, a Bellingham resident who has volunteered at Max Higbee for the past decade, has donated $10,000 to that campaign.

"All we want is this to succeed," Gump said.

Gump goes to the center once a month with percussion instruments that include drums, blocks and sticks. It gives the center's clients a chance to make a lot of noise "loudly and joyously," he said.

And though he's volunteering, Gump said he also benefits from meeting people he called extraordinary.

"They teach you about being human. I think that's the part I love the most," Gump said. "I don't care what deficits you've got, you want to be loved. And they are great at giving love."

To help

Max Higbee Center is raising at least $60,000 to help renovate its new space at 1400 N. State St., the former Alicia's Bridal & The Formal House Tuxedos, in downtown Bellingham.

The money will help pay for bathrooms that meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards, a kitchen for cooking classes, a quiet room for those who are sensitive to noise, and a room for daily recreation and fitness programs.

Money raised above the $60,000 threshold will go toward a dream list for more program supplies and equipment to accommodate growth.

Make tax-deductible donations on its GoFundMe page at



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