Connecting the city with its people Three North Seattle Neighborhood Service Center coordinators are the links between city services and the citizens they serve

Seattle's neighborhood service centers link city government to all of its neighborhoods. At many of the centers, one can check e-mail, pay a public utility bill and get a passport at the same time. So running one of the 13 centers is no easy task. But three University of Washington alumni manage to get the job done: Karen Ko, Beth Pflug and Steve Louie.

Karen Ko, University Service Center

Karen Ko took over the job at the University Neighbhorhood Service Center, 4534 University Way N.E., about five years ago.

She had worked with the executive director of a child-care and Head Start program in the International District for about five years and later went to work for King County in the White Center neighborhood.

She also did work study for the nonprofit Neighborhood House, an organization that aids those in public housing, for about 13 years.

She is the only full-time employee at the University Neighborhood Service Center, but, since it's a collection site where people can pay their utility bills and parking permits, get pet licenses and passports, there is a staff that includes permanent, part-time employees and temporary staffers.

She also shares office space with local police officers.

One of the hidden benefits of the center, she said, is that residents - from students to homeless people - can come to just get out of the rain, pay their bills or check their e-mail.

"There are people who come into our offices who are sort of seeking a little shelter, a little respite," she said.

And there are people who come into the centers who may get kicked out of other places, she said.

"There's a culture, I think, in the service centers of being pretty open and really being a good public service in that way, an invaluable service," she said.

She also attends numerous chamber, business and community meetings. She responds to individual requests and also gets involved with Greater University-area issues.

She's also working on ways to get people into the district despite some unfavorable, illegal activities that sometimes go on.

"We mustn't let a handful of people define the neighborhood," she said. "This business district has wonderful treasures up and down the street."

The center is also a place where neighborhoods connect with the city, Ko said.

It's that connection with people that draws Ko to work every day. "Whenever I can connect people who would not normally talk to each other, and it's of mutual benefit - I think that is the most rewarding part of my job. There's nothing quite as satisfying as actually making a phone call and having somebody answer the phone," she said.

Beth Pflug, Greenwood

Another University of Washington alumna, Beth Pflug, coordinaor of the Greenwood Neighborhood Service Center, doesn't call herself a "Seattleite," but rather a "true Puget Sounder."

Plug graduated from Fife High School near Tacoma and came to Seattle in the mid-1960s.

She has been working in social services for years, starting out at the nonprofit Neighborhood House, running a youth-tutoring program, and later holding different positions with the organization.

She worked first in White Center service center and moved to the Greenwood Neighborhood Service Center, 8515 Greenwood Ave. N., in 1991. She calls it a place where "connections are made."

It's the first point of contact for people who want to information about the neighborhood, or who just need help sifting through the red tape of the city, she said.

A point of interest in the neighborhood right now, Pflug said, is fixing up area parks. Pflug said the neighborhood is growing, and the challenge is to be able to "serve that growth" and supply the "right amenities to accommodate everybody."

Pflug calls herself an "information broker." She spends a lot of time talking to people on the phone and answering e-mails.

She doesn't solve the problems of people who walk through the door or call on the phone, but rather gives them the tools to figure out their own solutions.

"People call here for all kinds of things," she said; they'll call and say "this is a strange question," but part of her job is to "hear everybody out and make room for everybody's point of view."

In addition, Pflug attends neighborhood meetings and maintains contact with community leaders.

It's a fairly demanding job, she said, but every day is different: Sometimes things happens all at once, but "sometimes it's quiet."

She is the only full-time staff in the office and she has work-study students come and go. But there's less foot traffic than at some of the other neighborhood centers, such as the University center, because it's not a payment site.

But the main function of the center, she said, is to "serve the unique characteristics of the neighborhood" and "create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable."

"Helping to facilitate the connections is rewarding," she said. "People are really passionate about their neighborhoods. I like how people in Seattle come together to work on a problem."

Steve Louie, Fremont

A native of California, Steve Louie, coordinator for the service center in Fremont, moved to Seattle in the mid-1970s and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in social work.

In 1986, the Seattle Police Department hired him to work on community education programs such as crime prevention.

By the time the position opened up for the Fremont Neighborhood Service Center, Louie had worked with several other neighborhood coordinators. So he applied and was hired in 1994.

He said his center is similar to Pflug's: There's less foot traffic because it's less visible and it's not a payment site. But Louie said one of the foremost goals of his service center in Fremont is to help people "weigh through the bureaucracy" of city government.

The center is a resource for the community, he said, which is evident when one walks into the slightly hidden office at 908 N. 34th St. It's filled with pamphlets, community announcements and newspapers, brochures and postings of jobs and events.

It's a "repository of all this information," he said. He and the center act as a "jack of all trades," knowing a lot of about everything in the neighborhood.

He said each service center takes on a personality based on the neighborhood that it serves and what's going on at the time.

"We change depending on the concern, issue, project - it's wide open," he noted as someone stepped into the office to ask for directions.

Although Louie is the only full-time employee in the office, he relies on work-study students to help out, similar to the Greenwood center.

His days vary, he said. He often works long hours, attending meetings during the day and in the evenings.

Community gatherings are often held at the center, and people sometimes come in the office to use the computers. He said one man sails in from Florida once a year, and he'll stop by to check his e-mail.

He also prepares a monthly report for the City Council and media, among others, pointing out items of interest in the neighborhood.

One of the most memorable - and tragic -incidents in the office, he said, was when someone jumped off the Aurora Bridge and landed right in front of his office.

He also was at work during the Nisqually earthquake and watched as the bridge swayed back and forth.

There's also a drum shop located in the same building, and once in a while, he said, he can hear the pounding of employees and patrons.

Louie said he likes working with all the groups in the area, and he sees himself as a resource for them. He also sees himself as a first point of contact into the Fremont area.

"The goal is to kinda get people engaged," he said. "This is Fremont; there's always stuff going on.

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