Mustard Seed Begins Building First Home for KP Elders

It's a new era for Key Peninsula elders and the community at large.


After 15 years of planning, working and fundraising, The Mustard Seed Project broke ground Oct. 23 for the first assisted- living home for elders on the Key Peninsula.

“It’s a big longhouse with three modules, or homes, and three separate entrances; two assisted living homes and a memory care home, each with 10 studio apartments, so room for 30 residents,” said Eric Blegen, executive director since 2018.

“Each of the homes has a fireplace and kitchen at the center, with studios around the edges of the building,” he said. “Each studio has its own bathroom and a kitchenette. There is a provision for a couple of the rooms to take down the walls to make them into a double.”

“What we’re building is a Green House Project model; it’s a small-hearth home model, so for example if there’s a resident whose family wants to come and bake cookies, they can do that in the common kitchen. The whole effort is to make it feel like home and not a facility,” he said.

The building will be on a 5-acre site across the street from the Crandall Center, the Mustard Seed office at 9016 154th Avenue Court NW, above Key Center. The surrounding land will be both garden and park-like for residents and the community, perhaps including raised beds, an orchard and trails, according to Blegen.

The contractor, Korsmo Construction, plans to finish within 12 months, which means the homes could be open by November 2022.

Edie Morgan founded The Mustard Seed Project in 2007 as a mission to help KP elders stay in their homes as long as possible with whatever volunteer assistance she could coordinate, including yard work, transportation, or guidance navigating the vagaries of Social Security. That work revealed a need to provide assisted living to KP elders, who would otherwise have to leave their homes, friends and community.

“Basically, Edie invented what this has become,” said Dr. William Roes, the first president of the Mustard Seed board. “It was all her idea and she asked if I would be interested in helping and I said absolutely. I just hate to see people kind of disappear from the peninsula when they get to a point where they’re no longer able to sustain themselves.”

“Assisted living is going to be part of what we do now, but we’ve got a track record of 15 years of helping people age in place prior to this,” Roes said. “The Mustard Seed will continue to provide these other services as well.”

“It was obvious to me that if Mustard Seed was going to fulfill its vision, it was going to have to have a capital campaign to build assisted living,” said capital campaign co-chair Frank Garratt. “I knew enough about capital campaigns to know I didn’t know how to run one, and that it has to be big enough that we’re going to need to hire a consultant.”

“In 2012 Lois Crandall donated $30,000 to undertake a feasibility study,” said Dr. Sara Thompson, the current board president. (Thompson is also president of the KP News publishing board and a frequent KP News contributor.) “We began looking for an appropriate site.”

And raising money.

“When I started in December of 2016 this was going to be a $7.5 million project,” said Fund Development Director Marion Sharp. “Now the whole project is $13.4 million,” although the plan was scaled down as construction prices went up.

“We started going after private foundations, major sources of money from the county, the state, and the feds, and that’s what brought us to the point where we are now,” Garratt said. “It never goes the way you think. The experts tell you it’s never going to happen until it does.”

The project is financed by a $7.8 million construction loan to be assumed by a USDA rural development loan upon completion. “The $5.6 million balance we raised from individuals, from foundations, from the state, from the county, over three years of really detailed applications,” Sharp said.

“Completing the project will mean over 25 new jobs, making Mustard Seed the KP’s fourth largest employer,” Garratt said. “Along with Community Health Care, which will take over Dr. Roes’ practice at KP Medical, the project will result in more comprehensive health care and programs not only for KP elders but also for the entire community.”

“A lot of credit goes to Sara — and Eric and Marion just did an incredible job,” he said.

“Without Norm McLoughlin (on the capital campaign committee) we would never have looked at public money — the state capital budget, low-income housing funding through the county,” Thompson said. “And without those connections we would never have been able to go to (county council Chair) Derek Young for the final grant that let us close our funding gap.”

Thirty percent of the beds will be for low-income residents, in accordance with the Mustard Seed’s mission and requirements for some county funding; the rest will cost the market rate.

“In the first decade most of the excess revenue that we have projected will go into reserve funds — long-term maintenance, debt reserve. Once that is done, it will start generating revenue each year, which will come back to the Mustard Seed,” Blegen said.

“We’re not relying on that money, but one of the big things we’ve talked about doing is starting a fund to help folks who start as residents able to pay the full fee but spend down their assets. What happens to those people if all our lower income beds are full at that point? We want to be able to help people transition from private pay to Medicaid.”

“This is probably the most difficult area in our society because aging is becoming a huge issue,” said Ray Steiner, a Mustard Seed volunteer for six years. “But (the residents) will be part of our community, they can participate in the programs the Mustard Seed provides here; that’s for their families and for them both. I just know there needs to be loving people who are care providers and I know that’s what we’ll have.”

“That original mission that Edie started with of keeping people on the KP — I am really grateful for the audacious vision she had,” Blegen said. “The way we take care of our elders is not adequate in our society and this is an opportunity to maybe inspire others to do similar things. I’m pretty excited about that.”