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Excelsior program builds ties to the community

Karen Kearney

Karen Kearney, community development and outreach coordinator, represents Excelsior in the community, bringing the community to Excelsior and Excelsior to the community to build good relationships and partnerships.

“People will fear what they do not understand, so we want to be part of the neighborhood and let people know we are here to serve a purpose to make youth healthy as the generation of the future,” she said.

So Excelsior is a member of the NAACP Spokane, Corbin Senior Center and affiliates with churches in the Indian Trail area that bring quilts and birthday cakes.

Prince of Peace Lutheran is one of the Indian Trails area churches that assist.  Eagle Scouts built five raised beds for the residents to garden and then give produce to Second Harvest.

Karen is building relationships with the Police Department and Fire Department, inviting officers to stop by for coffee.

A grounds specialist maintains the arboretum and grounds.  Youth will learn to  preserve jams, work at a farmers’ market, handle money and go on field trips.  JC Penney helped residents paint and carpet a room, and provided racks of clothes for families and youth needing clothes. Excelsior invites congregations and individuals to donate clothes.

Down a hallway is a library with donations from the community, including books left after church rummage sales.

“I tell the youth that when they read, they can do anything,” said Karen.

Between the buildings are courtyards, because the building was originally for cloistered nuns.

Excelsior has received a $700,000 Hagen grant to establish a vocational school.

Karen, at age 62 in 2013, went to Spokane Falls Community College, to study social services.  She graduated in 2016.

“The Lord said for me to go to school,” she said.

In the future, she hopes to complete a bachelor’s degree.

“I’m the fifth generation of a Spokane family that was dysfunctional and poor.  My parents divorced when I was nine and remarried when I was 11,” she said.

They moved to Seattle. She lived there 35 years, working her way up in banking.

In her first marriage, Karen had two stillborn babies.  Her first husband left and divorced her. Later she had the marriage annulled and married Chuck, a police officer in Seattle in a Catholic church. 

After he retired in 1992, they bought a place in Montana, where they lived for five years. His health brought them back to Spokane.  He died in 2008.

Karen has been involved with many nonprofits.

“Needing to serve, I volunteered a while at the House of Charity, intentionally looking at each person who came as the face of Christ. I treated them with respect,” she said.

Karen is leader of her Neighborhood Council and had invited staff from Excelsior to come to meetings, after some neighbors complained about youth who left the campus.

About 18 months ago, Excelsior asked her to be community development coordinator to help them build relationships in the community.

“I’m here because I have a desire to serve,” said Karen, a member of St. Thomas More parish.

While many on staff have been there 15 to 40 years, there is turnover in staff with many interns and many working part time while going to school, so the youth take time to build trust.  She feels she now has their trust.

For information, call 328-7041 or email

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