Iraqi Community Center of Washington: Best Starts for Kids Out-of-School Time Grantee Profile
SOWA is excited to work with the many amazing organizations funded through the King County Best Starts for Kids Out-of-School Time (BSK OST) investment! These organizations, funded either as stand alone People of Color-Led organizations or Place-Based Partnerships, are all working hard to maximize their positive impact on King County youth.
Learn more about Iraqi Community Center of Washington, funded as part of a People of Color-Led Organization grant.
IRAQI COMMUNITY CENTER OF WASHINGTON
Iraqi Community Center of Washington (IRCCW) is an organization “providing culturally and linguistically competent social services to Iraqi refugees in Washington State to obtain self-sufficiency and make a successful transition to the life in America.” They have served this region for 20 years, growing considerable since their initial partnership with Southwest Youth and Family Services in West Seattle and White Center. In addition to the long history of dynamic programming for adults (including parenting and early learning education, introductions to the US school system, and women’s support and citizenship classes) IRCCW has run Arabic schools on for more than 6 years in Kent and White Center, and around 170 kids attend on Thursdays and Saturdays.
This program was born out of a desire of parents to preserve their language, and was totally volunteer-based (and had no grant funding) for many years. The classes are run by parent volunteers who have accessed other IRCCW services and by Iraqi teachers without American teaching certificates. IRCCW sends these teachers to additional trainings for math, reading, and assessment, supporting their professional development and progress towards obtaining American certification—7 moms are now certified teachers or Head Start educators, including dual-language Head Start educators. The organization is a member of the Kent Education Equity Partnership, and has received a PSESD grant to do an after-school program at a school in Kent which resulted in a boost in the reading levels of youth (as reflected in school district data).
Another programmatic focus is on case management regarding housing—IRCCW also received BSK Homelessness Prevention funds. They aim to feel like a family that also happens to be a one-stop service shop, supporting with everything from the acquisition of car insurance to reading report cards. The unique organizational culture created by IRCCW enables them to work well both with parents and families, but also with the school district. The Arabic language schools are growing at Kent Phoenix Academy, and at the Greenbridge housing center in White Center. Additional cultural events, like International Women’s Day celebrations, help kids and families feel proud of who they are and maintain cultural ties while also responding to their new home and new dreams to achieve in America. “It’s for their kid’s futures, and they can’t do it alone.”
The BSK OST investment feels like a dream come true for IRCCW. They have long been hosting bimonthly focus groups where their community can express concerns, and most of them are their kids. There was so much interest in summer activities that the organization decided to develop one, which now has a waiting list. They have hired community members on as staff, and have secured space in partnership with a principal at a school who has experience working with refugee populations. The community they serve has responded very positively to this, and the organization is grateful to have flexibility in their use of funds—they’re building their own database to support them in embarking on a new path that’s firmly embedded within the community they’ve already cultivated.
SOWA’s expertise in capacity building and our knowledge of schools and other community-based organizations are very useful for IRCCW. They’re also looking forward to the training and coaching made available by this investment, which will build individual staff member’s capacities as well as the program as a whole. SOWA staff have also proven to be helpful resources, creating responsive, transparent, and trusting relationships in which grantees feel comfortable communicating with us. Being funded as a POC-Led organization promotes this trust and relationship, as often grassroots organizations can feel like they are underestimated or are being taken from without being given to. The leadership of People of Color is being supported, and their culturally-specific experiences and perspectives are determining factors of the direction of the organization. Organizations like IRCCW are getting recognized for all the incredible work they do with limited resources, and it’s exciting to see how much they’re planning to accomplish with sustained funding.