Networking With a Heart: SANEWA Supports and Serves Local Seniors

By Jessica Simpkins, MD

Few networking groups spend as much time serving their community as they do forging business connections. But that’s precisely what the Senior Network Action of Eastern Washington (SANEWA) does. Spokane local Allen Gilmour became aware of the Senior Action Network (SAN) in Olympia, Washington and recognized a need for similar opportunities in Eastern Washington. After conversations with other local businesses and senior community members, SANEWA was founded in 2011, using SAN in Olympia as a model.

Today SANEWA boasts the largest senior support network in the Greater Spokane area. This nonprofit has two major directives: to provide a networking forum for businesses and to volunteer goods and services to enhance healthy, independent and secure lives for senior citizens in the local communities of Eastern Washington. Amazingly, SANEWA is run entirely off of volunteer time and effort without paid positions.

After holding their first forum in November of 2011, SANEWA was comprised of 14 members. Since that time, they have grown to as many as 116 members, and currently have 80 due-paying members. They hold networking events every third Tuesday of the month and lead a number of annual community events including Rake ‘n’ Run in the fall, a gift wrapping party in the winter, a beautification project in the Summer, and their biggest event, Cooking for a Cause.

Sane Wa Team

Back left, Bruce Felt, Terri Wagar, Leslie Luedtke, Vince McPhail, Front left, Amy Stafford, Paula Davis, Pam Duddy, Michelle Neihart – Tami Siriani Photography

Leslie Luedtke, the current president of SANEWA, has been in the senior care industry for 15 years. She highlights the satisfaction that comes with serving the seniors in her community. “At first, I was coming to the networking meetings because of my job. But now, my favorite parts of being involved with SANEWA are the physical interactions of service and giving back to our seniors. I love being shoulder to shoulder with other members, hands in the dirt, and serving our community.”

Andy Niska, owner of Love in Home Senior Care and board member of SANEWA, echoes the same sentiment, “Like many others, I joined SANEWA for the opportunity to grow my business that serves older adults and network with other businesses in the senior industry. Through networking, you become familiar with others who are in this community, providing services and products to adults. But you get to see their heart when you’re shoulder to shoulder serving with them and giving to people who need our help.”

Andy continues, “When we do the annual Rake ‘n’ Run event, sometimes we’ll show up to a house whose lawn hasn’t been maintained for a few years. Some of these older adults don’t have anyone who can help them maintain their yard, and they can no longer do it themselves. The look on their faces when they step out on their porch to see what you’ve done for them. They have so much appreciation and gratitude for the care we’ve given.”

Vince McPhail, a senior financial advisor at Wells Fargo Advisors, has been with SANEWA for the past 10 years. He whole-heartedly agrees with Leslie and Andy and adds, “I love the action-based focus of this organization and having the chance to give back with these events. It has helped grow my compassion for others. And unlike other networking events, you have the opportunity to include your entire family, which I think is really special.”

Like many other organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic served as an obstacle for SANEWA to overcome in order to continue serving the seniors of their communities. Leslie credits the heart and creativity of their members to find unique ways to keep their mission going. In a Salute to the Spokane Veteran’s Home, they raised funds to provide care packages, a gourmet food truck meal, and hot espresso beverage to 84 residents and 110 employees. Students from the Spokane City Community College decorated the sidewalks with chalk, people paraded through the lot in cars, and SANEWA members stood and applauded the residents and employees.

When asked about other obstacles SANEWA has faced, Andy mentions as they continue to grow, they must be mindful of their capacities and how that aligns with their mission. “There are a lot of worthy causes and areas of need, but we can’t serve them all. As our membership grows, more people bring forth projects that are near to their heart, which is great. But we must be selective about what projects best meet our capabilities,” Andy explains. Vince also notes, “Because everything we do is volunteer-driven, unfortunately there is only such much you can do.”

Leslie is ever mindful of how the logistics and operations of SANEWA need to scale with its growth. “One of my goals is to successfully pass the baton off to the next board. As you grow, you run into problems to stay organized and create continuity for the next board. We want to preserve SANEWA’s mission of serving senior community members.”

Vince notes that he has seen SANEWA undergo three major changes in the makeup of the board of directors. Keeping the organization’s mission alive with each passing of the baton has been a top priority. He feels that each successful transition has happened because of the one to three members that stay through the transition to help preserve the heart and mission of SANEWA.

Andy reiterates the need to continue to better understand how best they can serve the community within their capacity. “Some projects take a lot more time, effort, and volunteers than others. For example, Cooking for a Cause is our biggest event and requires year-long attention and planning. We have nearly every member involved.”

For more information about SANEWA, upcoming events, and how to get involved, visit their website at You can also follow them on Facebook @sanewaspokane. Any questions can be emailed to