Find Posts By Topic

HSD Employee Spotlight—Karen Winston

Karen Winston smiles for the camera

What is your role at Seattle Human Services?

As a senior planner in the Aging and Disability Services division of Seattle Human Services, I’m responsible for coordinating development of the Area Plan—our roadmap as the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle and King County—as required by the federal Older Americans Act. We look at demographic trends, solicit public input, and outline major goals and objectives to be achieved over the course of four years. There are biennial updates and annual report cards.

I liaise with Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie Tribes regarding elder programs—specifically what we call “7.01 Implementation” plans outlining DSHS service programs supporting tribal elders.

In addition, I staff the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders and coordinate three large events each year—Memory Sunday in June, which disseminates information about Alzheimer’s and other dementias among faith communities serving people of African descent; Grandparents Day in September, in collaboration with the Northwest African American Museum; and Legacy of Love, the African American Caregivers Forum, in November, which focuses on caregiver support and memory care, drawing family caregivers from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

What made you want to work in human services?

A photo of Karen Winston from the 1990s

Community service has always been important to me. I began my career in city government in 1985, working as a Legislative Assistant to Sam Smith, the first African American to serve on the Seattle City Council. Although the position was fast paced and demanding, it also allowed me the opportunity to learn about City government overall, from human services to public utilities. It was a good introduction!

I joined HSD in 1992 because I wanted to make a difference for the older people who are at the heart of our community. In 1997, I co-founded the African American Elders Program, which is now sponsored by Catholic Community Services. We also advised Mayor Norman B. Rice in creating the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders. Both entities address the needs of frail and vulnerable older Black adults throughout King County. About 10 years ago, I produced a digital story about this work—Hope for the Heart of Our Community—that you can find at

A lot of what I do today focuses on brain health, particularly among people of African descent, who are at greater risk for dementia diagnosis. I’m involved with the state Dementia Action Collaborative, partner with the UW Medicine’s Memory & Brain Wellness Center, and volunteer on the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Advisory Committee. I helped to coordinate numerous conferences that build cultural competence in this arena.

In the past year, I co-facilitated the launch of SHARP Seattle at the Central Area Senior Center. SHARP stands for Sharing History through Active Reminiscence and Photo-Imagery. This culturally celebratory walking and reminiscing program aims to improve the cognitive, social, and physical health among older African Americans with ties to Seattle’s Central District.

What do you love about your job?

Karen smiles and waves at the camera during an employee appreciation event

I love results. As a planner, I love to see plans brought to fruition and see how lives are improved. I love seeing improvements in cultural competency. I love working at Aging and Disability Services because my colleagues are supportive and really care about older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers, and strive to improve and stay connected to communities.

What motivates you or keeps you going?

I continue to be motivated by my determination to make a difference. Layer on the encouragement and respect I receive from my colleagues, and I know that it’s a pretty great place to work!