Behind the dormant neon of the 1950s Lake Air Resort sign, a hydraulic construction lift is suspended in air, meeting the renovated roofline of a re-imagined motor lodge that will soon become a center of hope and help for Kings Beach families.

By late summer, the construction equipment should be gone from the corner of Bear and Trout streets and the transformation of the aging motel will be unveiled. The Community House, as the re-built motel will be named, will house three vital nonprofits — Project MANA, Tahoe SAFE Alliance, and the North Tahoe Family Resource Center.

The campus-style Community House will unite the splintered array of Kings Beach community services under a single roof and into a single system. The coordinated approach will target a set of deceivingly complex social problems — hunger, poverty, mental health, and domestic abuse — with a coordinated and proactive approach that has never been seen before in Kings Beach.

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“We rarely have simple problems as human beings,” said Phebe Bell, program director for the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which headed up the project. “You may have had your electricity turned off, but it is usually a cascading series of problems that brought you to that point.”

At the Community House, families will only have to tell their stories once, and that information will be used to connect them to needed services, whether it’s food, mental health consultations, domestic abuse response, or health care assistance.

As the Community House description puts it, the programs will “move families away from crisis and toward long-term self-reliance and resilience.”

The building will include 16 workstations and four confidential meeting rooms. For nonprofits like Project MANA, which previously operated out of a closet in the North Tahoe Family Resource Center building, simply having a desk and chair is a major upgrade.

Nearly $1.6 million of the $2.1 million needed for the project has already been raised through a combination of public and private sources, including the S.H. Cowell Foundation, Placer County, and First Five California. The funding will finance the construction of the building and the integration of services, and will establish a small endowment to pay for maintenance of the building.

The Community House project is important for another reason. It is turning an emblem of Kings Beach decay — an aging, outdated 1950s motel — into a model for community revitalization. And it is doing all this without stripping away the history. The Lake Air Resort is still standing, under a layer of renovation and expansion.

“We felt really strongly that in Kings Beach it was about redevelopment,” said Theresa May Duggan, a longtime Kings Beach resident and board member of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation.

The project ties seamlessly into a series of community projects that are breathing new life and energy into Kings Beach. Duggan notes that four other important projects preceded the Community House, and calls the nonprofit building “the last of the high five.” Combined with changes at Kings Beach Elementary School, the building of the Boys and Girls Club, the Commercial Core project, and the Domus affordable housing project, Duggan sees bright days ahead for the entire Kings Beach community.

That critical mass of public investment, the idea that the whole is more than the sum of all its parts, is the philosophy behind both the Community House and the Kings Beach public investment at large. The sidewalks of the Commercial Core project will soon lead to the front door of the Community House. The Lake Air Resort’s housing units were used to construct affordable housing through Domus Development, giving a safe, clean, and well-maintained home to Kings Beach’s lower income families.

The materialization of this holistic approach is a tribute to the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which went way beyond simply funding the Community House project to act as full project managers of the building. And it is also due to the involvement of the S. H. Cowell Foundation, which takes a place-based planning approach to its funding. The San Francisco-based foundation, started by real estate investor Samuel Henry Cowell, has pledged more than $5 million to the Kings Beach community over the years in a long-standing commitment to building a network of effective, efficient, and connected community services.

“When they invest in a community, they don’t just invest in one piece of it,” said Bell.

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  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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