Remaking Casino Road

EVERETT — Casino Road has a reputation.

Drugs, prostitution, gangs. It’s an area marked by too much violence and too little hope.

Heidi Happonen is part of a group of volunteers that is trying to change that reputation for the better.

“We’re hoping that one day Casino Road will be called Prosperity Drive,” Happonen said.

Happonen, a married mother of two who owns her own public relations firm in Everett, is part of a group of several organizations that have come together to help Casino Road residents create a safe and prosperous place to live.

Happonen and many of the others in the group don’t live on Casino Road. They’ve come together simply because they feel they have a stake in what is happening in this beleaguered part of Everett.

“The most important part of cleaning up Casino Road is getting the men and women who live there involved,” Happonen said. “Volunteers from the outside can only do so much. Any real, lasting change has to come from the inside.”

Happonen admitted it’s easier said than done. The densely packed apartment complexes are home to diverse ethnic groups, the working poor and some who have had trouble with the law, she said.

“Trust is an issue and often times it’s difficult to establish relationships with the very people you are trying to help,” Happonen said. “There are resources available, but to many Casino Road residents they lack the trust to follow through.”

The group’s unofficial name is the Community Stakeholder Group of Casino Road. One program that has been successful is a homework club held at Word of Grace South Everett Foursquare Church. Students meet after school from 6:15 to 8:45 p.m. Wednesdays and can get not only tutoring and a meal but also someone to listen.

“I wanted to start a homework club for at-risk families, single-parent households and immigrant households,” Todd McNeal said. “Now we have volunteers who show them that education is important.”

McNeal lived near Casino Road for 15 years and developed an affinity for the area. He said that by working with the children, the stakeholders have been able to develop positive relationships with the parents.

“Once you have gained the trust of the children, it is easier to gain the trust of the family,” McNeal said. “And once you gain the trust of the family you can get them out into the community and show them the resources available to them.”

Volunteer Tyrone McMorris is part of the stakeholders group and has started his own nonprofit group to help the teens and young people on Casino Road.

“It’s a full-time job, one that I’ve been doing for eight years,” McMorris said. “I know Casino Road is a rough area, but I wanted to contribute to the community. We have to, because it’s local. It’s our back yard.”

Reporter Justin Arnold: 425-339-3432 or jarnold@heraldnet.com.

How to volunteer

For more information on the Community Stakeholder Group of Casino Road or to learn how to become a volunteer, call 425-754-2662.

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