Community leaders form plan to improve Everett’s Casino Road area

EVERETT — When pastor Joseph Fehlen saw the needs in the community near his church, his congregation opened its doors, as many churches do.

This time, they may not have realized how far and how wide.

A fledgling community group working to transform what they refer to as the “Casino Triangle of South Everett” had a Bermuda Triangle-sized goal and they needed a place to meet.

The group wants to transform the triangle, an area roughly bounded by W. Casino Road south of Highway 526, west of I-5 and north of Airport Road and 128th Street SW, from an area known for its crime and prostitution into a neighborhood where families of different cultures and nationalities feel welcome and safe.

“We are trying to work together from both sides of the Casino Triangle to make this a better place for all,” said Fehlen, pastor of Word of Grace Foursquare Church, which is on the corner of Evergreen Way and Casino Road.

“Our location is a core value for our church. We see where we are as one of our greatest strengths. This is a superb neighborhood with lots of wonderful people and we are very intentional on keeping our focus on this little slice of the world,” Fehlen said.

The group’s effort started “when some of us realized lots of groups and agencies were concerned or working in that area but not aware of each other and not coordinated,” said Wendy McClure, coordinator for the Everett Office of Neighborhoods.

“So we helped call a meeting in February, which attracted about 45 people,” she said.

While the group is not yet official, it includes residents, business leaders, religious groups, city officials, social agencies and school groups “who want to transform Casino Road from the inside out,” said Heidi Happonen, a member of Word of Grace Foursquare Church and its communications person.

The group of stakeholders has met since January at Word of Grace with the goal of unifying efforts and learning about resources to help residents, Happonen said.

The goal of helping these groups work together is big and comes with obstacles. Casino Road’s triangle is one of the most diverse areas of Everett, including many ethnic groups, languages and cultures that make it difficult to navigate, to communicate and to work together.

By doing so, the group hopes to tackle such issues as child care and parenting, drug and alcohol addiction, and to launch neighborhood watch programs, to create safe play spaces for kids, to reduce litter and to make it safe for students to walk to school.

Sonrise Chapel is another church in the Casino Triangle helping in the efforts.

“As a church, we really want to show the goodness of Jesus to our community and we want to partner with other churches that love Jesus and love people,” said John Hammer, associate youth pastor of Sonrise. “Our first partnered event was the community Easter egg hunt with Word of Grace Foursquare and Tryonne McMorris who heads up Casino Road Ministries.

“We want to see the church get out of its four walls more often. We are also planning a community barbecue in August and we provide a free meal the third Thursday of each month at the Boys and Girls Club on Casino Road as well,” Hammer said.

Happonen said the group is aiming to build momentum with a series of baby steps, including community events like the Sonrise barbecue, which they hope will spread the word of their efforts, and help to get residents involved in transforming the neighborhood.

The first event, a neighborhood outreach in June, will include a Family Fun Fair at The Bluffs Apartment complex. This will provide an opportunity for people to get to know their neighbors, to share some of the current resources, and to start a dialogue about what can be done to make Casino Road a great place to live and work, Happonen said.

Other planned events are a National Night Out gathering in July and a Start Out Right back-to-school event in August, which last year provided free backpacks filled with school supplies to area students, as well as a hot breakfast, music and dancing.

Some of the agencies and people involved in the Casino Road efforts include members of the Department of Social and Health Services, Word of Grace South Everett Foursquare Church, Sonrise Chapel, Bible Baptist Church, Casino Road Ministries, EMS-Fire Volunteers, Horizon Elementary School, Westmont Neighborhood Association, City of Everett Office of Neighborhoods, a State of Washington outreach to the Hispanic community, the South Everett Neighborhood Center and Latino Resource Center, The Bluffs Apartment Complex and other residents.

The group meets at 4 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at the Word of Grace South Everett Foursquare Church, 206 E. Casino Road. Anyone interested in contributing to the effort is encouraged to attend meetings, especially residents and business owners on Casino Road.

Reporter Leita Hermanson-Crossfield: 425-339-3449 or lcrossfield@heraldnet.com.

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