After 16 Years of Work, Assisted Living for Elders Comes to the Key Peninsula

Thanks to an audacious vision, and hundreds of community volunteers and donors, elders have a home on the KP.


The Mustard Seed Project celebrated its opening of the first assisted living residence for elders on the Key Peninsula November 12 after one year of construction and 16 of dreaming, planning, working and fundraising.

“A year ago, this ground around us was covered in Scotch broom and blackberry brambles,” said Eric Blegen, executive director, in his opening remarks. “Now is when the real work begins. Soon, this building will be a village: The Mustard Seed Village.”

The residence consists of three homes in a single longhouse situated on 5 acres across the street from TMSP office, called the Crandall Center, overlooking Key Center at 9016 154th Ave. Court NW. Each home will house 10 elders in private apartments with bathrooms and kitchenettes surrounding large common areas and full kitchens, with extensive gardens and trails outside. Nine rooms are reserved for low income elders, and one home will be dedicated to elders requiring memory care.

Edie Morgan founded The Mustard Seed Project in 2006 as a mission to help KP elders remain in their homes as long as possible with whatever volunteer assistance she could coordinate. But even with all of the other work, building a place for elders to live on the KP — Morgan’s “audacious vision” — is what unified the project and its people, Blegen said. 

“I feel great joy that this beautiful home for elders is about to open, and I am profoundly grateful to the hundreds, hundreds, of people who have made it possible,” Morgan said. 

“For many years, Key Peninsula elders in need of supportive care have had to leave the community to find it,” Blegen said. “Now there will be an option for them to live here to stay connected to their community and their friends.” 

The first elders will be moving in January 16, he said. 

The Village will be managed by Concepts in Community Living according to the Green House Project principles of assisted living, under the supervision of TMSP.

Denise Mecartea is working as executive director of the Village, but her title is “guide.”

“I’m still going through school right now, learning the Green House Project theory,” she said. “It’s learning how to coach the staff in having a good mindset treating people … doing things like they’re in their own homes, instead of in a regimented, traditional way.”

Mecartea has worked in assisted living homes for 30 years in Washington state, and taught caregiver classes for the Department of Social and Health Services. She said the Village will have about 22 people on staff and that hiring is underway.

Well over 200 people showed up for the opening, indicating something about its import to the community. Blegen acknowledged the many individuals and organizations who made the Village possible, from representatives in Congress, the Legislature and Pierce County, to the architects, contractor, loan officers and local foundations, like the William A. Looney Family, the Russell Family, the Stanleys, the Tulalip Tribe and half a dozen others — nearly all of whom were present.

Blegen also thanked the board members past and present and smaller donors: “We received almost $2 million in individual donations. Without that community support, we wouldn’t have been able to leverage all the other support for the project; this community was essential for that.”

Frank Garratt, co-chair of the capital campaign committee, said “the experts” told them it would take two years to reach their goal of $8 million to build the Village.

“What did it really take? Almost eight years and $14 million. But we made it,” he said, singling out fellow committee members and campaign co-chair Sara Thompson for her “bulldog” determination and Norm McLaughlin for his expertise in finding government funding.

The committee had to raise just under $6 million in donations and grants to secure a USDA loan for the balance required to build, which was an additional $7.8 million.

“If we knew how big the mountain was, we may never have started our journey, and to be honest it was more like a mountain range,” said Thompson, who served as TMSP board president as well as on the capital campaign committee. (Thompson is also president of the KP News publishing board and a frequent contributing writer.)

“I want to especially acknowledge Eric, our executive director, and Marion (Sharp), our development director,” she said. “The rest of us worked hard; they lived and breathed this project 24/7.”

Morgan added to the sentiment by saying, “My very special and enduring thanks to Eric for picking up the baton in this marathon and running the most challenging part of this long race — four years of managing the millions of details actually required to build this project related to funding, construction and implementation of the precious ideals we had before his arrival. (Blegen succeeded Morgan as TMSP executive director in 2018.)

“I am so grateful that I didn’t have to manage all of that; it’s much easier to be the visionary,” she said. “And my heartfelt, lifelong thanks to Sara Thompson, who has been the very backbone of this very long and deeply challenging project. Without her … this beautiful home simply would not have been built. She is the unsung hero of this story.”

Morgan closed the ceremony by saying, “We have lived out two parables of the mustard seed. The tiniest of seeds has grown to become a protective shelter with great branches … and through our shared faith, just the size of a mustard seed, mountains have been moved.” 

Frank Garratt cut the ribbon, opening the Village to the KP community.

“And we all lived happily ever after,” Morgan said.