EVERETT — Efforts to improve the lives of people in south Everett are gaining traction, and now a new initiative is bringing some financial muscle to the effort.
The Casino Road Initiative is using a broad-based strategy to tackle intertwined problems of poverty, language barriers, safety and economic development in the Casino Road area.
About 19,000 people live in the area bounded by Casino Road, Airport Road and Evergreen Way, making it one of the most densely populated parts of Everett. One-quarter of those people live in poverty, and the poverty rate for children is 35.7 percent, more than double the countywide rate of 14 percent.
Local community groups have been trying to tackle those problems for a number of years. One coalition, the Casino Road Stakeholders, launched in 2008. By 2015, the group was moving forward on developing a much-needed community center for the neighborhood.
In December, the Casino Road Initiative started up with a three-year $700,000 planning grant from the Whitehorse Foundation, an arm of the Seattle Foundation that focuses on improving quality of life in Snohomish County.
The grant is being used to establish a steering committee and hire a coordinator, said Maddy Metzger-Utt, the president of the Community Foundation of Snohomish County. The foundation is providing administrative support to the new initiative.
After the 15-person steering committee settles on a strategy, the group will be able to apply to the Whitehorse Foundation for additional funding targeted at specific programs.
The focus is not just on single problems, since the area already has many social service organizations working on everything from health care to housing and hunger.
“We’re really trying to play off the strength of the programs already here,” said Sara Stuart, the recently hired staff coordinator for the initiative.
That includes successful programs such as Casino Road Academy’s adult education classes, she said, which likely will be included in a more comprehensive strategy.
Otherwise, the goal will be to evaluate what works and where there are gaps, and then develop a plan to have the most effect.
“Programs alone are not going to solve these issues,” Metzger-Utt said.
One important factor that will be included is what Metzger-Utt called a two-generational approach: programs or combinations of them that will improve the lives of both children and their parents.
“We can do great things with youth, but if they come home to a nonfunctioning adult, that’s not going to help anyone,” she told the Everett City Council on Wednesday.
The other main focus will be on English language learning for adults. Nearly 20 percent of the neighborhood is of Spanish-speaking Latino origin, and the area is also one of the most diverse in the city.
“A lot of the adults are really wanting to improve themselves but they have language barriers and other barriers in place,” Metzger-Utt said.
She said the goal is to develop an overall strategy by November to report back to the Whitehorse Foundation. Then the initiative will be able to apply for funding for more targeted programs, she said.
“Hopefully by then we’ll have a much clearer understanding of what we need in future years,” Metzger-Utt said.