Spend more than a few minutes inside one of the six Snohomish County locations of the YMCA, and it’s clear there’s more going on than open swims, pickup basketball games and treadmills.
Since 1901, the Snohomish County Y has served and strengthened the community through youth development, healthy living for body, mind and spirit and social responsibility.
That ethic comes through in physical fitness programs and classes, but also through early childhood education programs; its LiveStrong cancer patient support program; and more recently its Casino Road Academy, which offers adult education courses — with childcare provided — for English language learners and GED test preparation.
As the county grows in population and diversity, the Snohomish County Y is adapting to meet the community’s needs, the latest effort being the establishment of a New American Welcome Center.
The Snohomish County Y is one of only 12 selected from more than 900 YMCAs in the nation to receive grant funding to establish the center, intended to help immigrants and refugees get access to services and classes and develop the skills to fully engage in their adopted communities.
From its earliest days, the YMCA has worked to assist the nation’s immigrant populations, said Tami Farber, the Y’s director of community engagement, diversity and inclusion and education, addressing a meeting last week in Mukilteo of other social service groups and community representatives who it is enlisting to cooperate in the effort.
The grant from the national YMCA was modest, $40,000, but it is being used to help coordinate with other agencies and groups and add to programs that the Snohomish County YMCA already offers, Farber said.
As it works with other groups, Farber said, the Y also hopes to add to the more than 10,000 volunteers in Snohomish County that help it do the work it does.
The Y plans to expand programs it currently offers, such as the Casino Road Community Center, home to the adult education academy, which also serves the children of the south Everett families who live in the area, providing meals, help with homework, a computer lab, mentoring and supports the Y’s My Achievers Program, which assists teens preparing for college.
Other existing programs that could be expanded through the welcome center include a citizenship class offered at the Marysville Y — again with childcare available — and a Spanish-language class for those who are managing diabetes.
Programs could be offered at each of the county Y’s locations, Farber said, and also could expand when it opens its new Everett location in the next three years.
But the program also hopes to build on the partnerships it has already established with other organizations, such as Seattle Goodwill and Edmonds Community College at the adult education academy.
Along with providing services at Y locations, Farber said, the Y wants to be able to refer people to programs that others offer, avoiding duplication of programs that already assist refugees and immigrants.
The programs, at the Y or elsewhere, would encompass language and other education; economic integrity and employment services; health and well-being; citizenship and civic engagement and community development.
The intent of the New American Welcome Center, Farber said, is not assimilation but acculturation, allowing new arrivals to navigate American society and join in the community and add their diversity to the community.
Last week’s meeting included a visit by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, who noted the growth in diversity in his district during his 16-plus years in office. Of the 435 congressional districts in the U.S., Larsen said his 2nd District has the 16th largest Ukrainian population in the nation; 10 percent of the district’s population is Hispanic, and the district, which includes most of Snohomish County west of I-5, as well as most of Arlington and Marysville, has significant Korean and Vietnamese communities.
Not including other immigration, more than 2,200 refugees have been admitted to Washington state in the first seven months of the current fiscal year, almost 950 from Ukraine and nearly 350 from Iraq, according to statistics from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center.
While Seattle has the closest refugee resettlement office, Farber said, many refugees are relocating to Snohomish County, either to live within existing immigrant communities or because of the increasing cost of living in the Seattle area.
During last week’s meeting, Larsen was asked about the federal debates regarding immigrants and refugees. Beyond issues over a border wall and enforcement, Larsen said the ultimate answer will be negotiated immigration reforms.
Until that happens, Larsen said, the immigrants and refugees who are here will need help to adjust and become part of the community.
“It falls on you, to sort out those details,” he said.
A video produced by the Snohomish County YMCA highlights the type of programs the YMCA’s New American Welcome Center could offer. The four-minute video talks with Ricarda, who immigrated from Mexico and is a married mother of three young children. Ricarda has taken English and GED courses through the Y, and, with her children, also has learned to swim at the Y and calls it the family’s “favorite hobby.” Watch the video at tinyurl.com/SnoCoYMCARicarda.