East African Community Services proves representation is key to education

Story by Damme Getachew

East African Community Services (EACS) is a lighthouse for hundreds of youth who simply want to succeed in education and life. It’s located in the New Holly Neighborhood Campus in Southeast Seattle, where more than 65 percent of residents are East African.

As a first-generation Somali-American, Executive Director Faisal Jama knows what it’s like to be in the shoes of the students he passionately serves. There is an opportunity gap that East African youth experience in traditional school systems, and even within their own communities, Jama says.

As children of immigrant parents, or as immigrants themselves, East African youth grow up with less understanding of how to successfully navigate the education system than their counterparts.

That’s why EACS exists — to provide “culturally responsive” K-12 education programs during after-school hours throughout the academic year and in the summer.

“We focus on being proactive, not reactive so that our kids are prepared,” Jama explains. Students start algebra by 8th grade instead of 9th and take math for four years instead of the three-year high school requirement.

They also hold frequent workshops where community members come in to talk about their careers, family, culture and identity, providing East African youth with tangible role models for success.

“In our community, there are a lot of people that are serving our kids, but it’s not us…” Jama emphasizes. “We make sure our professionals and our volunteers can relate to them.”

In other workshops, students engage in discussions on African and African-American literature. It’s important that one knows where you come from — it encourages self-love, Jama says.

Since its inception, EACS has transitioned alongside the East African immigrant community it serves — from aiding newly-arrived refugees in the ‘90’s with necessary social services, to offering full-blown educational training for the children of those same families a generation later.

As Jama puts it, EACS doesn’t intend to be-all and do-all for East African youth. Instead, the organization recognized that becoming an education-only institution was exactly what the kids needed.

In partnership with local colleges, student-teachers instruct their classes. EACS also regularly employs high school students as interns and brings in volunteers from the community to ensure strong support in the classrooms.

Since their full transformation in 2013 to an education organization, EACS has seen a 30 percent increase in student enrollment. “It’s all from word-of-mouth,” Jama explains. Parents are telling other parents.

EACS alum Ahlaam Ibraahim is an example of what continuous and culturally-relevant support can do. Ibraahim was recognized for her high academic achievements in a recent Seattle Times article, and has become well known for her community activism. She even launched her own initiative, “Educating the Horn,” in connection with EACS recently, to help high school students fill out college applications and apply to scholarships.

Beyond college, EACS is also laying the groundwork for more representation from the East African community in the tech industry.  With support from the City of Seattle Technology Matching Fund  EACS recently began its ICT (Information Computer Technology) Learning Center to offer robotics along with college and career readiness classes. Students gain programming skills, learn how to code and use JavaScript, and more.

“The key is bringing in people that can show them what it looks like,” Jama says. “It’s about career awareness.”

He says it’s not just STEM learning that’s beneficial, it’s the visual depiction that people of color can and do succeed that reaffirms the youth’s belief in themselves and their own ability to thrive.


The City of Seattle is now accepting applications for the 2017 Technology Matching Fund (TMF). In 2016 the city awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds. This funding assists more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.

Youth to lead 11th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. march on Jan. 16

Teens brave the weather during the 2014 MLK march.

Seattle Parks and Recreation invites the public to join a youth-organized march to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Saturday, Jan. 16. Participants will gather at 11 a.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park, 2200 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, 98144. Teens will lead the march to Rainier Community Center, 4600 38th Ave. S, 98118.

This is Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Teen Program’s 11th annual youth march. Teens from throughout the city will speak out against injustice via a peaceful demonstration. The goal for the march is to celebrate the contributions Seattle youth make in creating a better city and to honor the work that youth do to keep Dr. King’s dream alive every day.

A keynote speaker will talk at 1 p.m. and educational workshops will follow at 1:30 p.m. The three workshops are:

  • Are your rights at risk? A voter’s education session with mock voting activity
  • Microaggressions led by youth
  • Straight talk community panel

Dinner and giveaways will take place from 3-4 p.m.

The event is free of cost to all teens and community participants and will include food, live music, a safe environment and plenty of fun!

For more information, please contact Cindy Sandino-Chang, Seattle Parks and Recreation, at 206-551-7316 or cindy.sandino-chang@seattle.gov.

Seattle Parks and Recreation sends three athletes to national cross country competition

Seattle Parks and Recreation cross country participants. Photo submitted by Eric Linxweiler

On Saturday, Dec. 12, three young men represented Seattle Parks and Recreation in the national cross country championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico! Though the weather was cold and wet, all three boys finished strong competing in a pool of 227.

Boden, Whit and William started practicing with High Point Community Center’s cross country program this fall. The 7- and 8-year-old boys placed second or third in all of their meets this year, including the Western Washington region of USA Track and Field’s Junior Olympics and the regional competition where they faced challengers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

Coach Eric Linxweiler said he’s enjoyed watching every member of the team build confidence and strength this season.

“When we start our season in September, they struggle to run even a mile, let alone one with hills,” Linxweiler said. “Within weeks, they are doing it, and getting stronger. … With resources like Lincoln Park, Alki Beach, and the West Seattle Stadium, we have plenty of ways to mix it up and make it both fun and effective. … Regarding Boden, William and Whit, they are simply some of the best kids to coach you could ask for.  They learn and adjust, they have fun, and most of all, they want to do it again next year.  ”

This year was Linxweiler’s first year serving as the head coach of the program. He received assistance from Seattle Parks and Recreation spring track coach, Johnnie Williams, and former cross country coach Brandee Paisano.

For more information about participating in Seattle Parks and Recreation’s sports leagues, please visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/athletics/index.htm.

Seattle Human Services Department announces $225K in available to funding to support homeless youth

Seattle, WA – Today, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) announced $224,131 in available funding to support homeless youth the with case management and drop-in center services to youth and young adults.

This Request for Qualifications (RFQ) is open to community-based, non-profit agencies that are currently providing services for homeless youth and young adults. HSD is interested in funding one agency to take on the contract for the current University District Youth Center (UDYC) site, leased from the University Congregational United Church of Christ, and provide drop-in center basic need services and PRO Youth (Partners Reaching Out to Youth Countywide) Case Management.

Funding will be focused on two full-time case managers connecting homeless youth and young adults to housing and increased income, as well as drop-in center staff providing basic need services including but not limited to: laundry, showers, meals, clothing, and resource sharing.

The $224,131in funding is made available through HSD general fund ($113,255), PRO Youth-McKinney Fund ($69,397) and PRO Youth-HSD General Fund-McKinney Match ($41,479). The application deadline is Monday, October 12, 2015 by 12p.m.

 The Seattle Human Services Department is one of the largest contributors to Seattle’s safety net as it provides $89 million in funding through 522 contracts to nearly 200 agencies that support Seattle’s most vulnerable residents each year. The department works closely with its community partners, including other public and nonprofit funders and service providers, to understand current and emerging human service needs, and to create and invest in a comprehensive and integrated regional human services system.

For more information about HSD Funding Opportunities and application materials, visit HSD’s Funding Opportunities webpage.