Celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month with The Y New American Welcome Center

Last updated: May 28, 2021, at 4:02 p.m. PT

Originally published: May 25, 2021, at 9:46 a.m. PT


June is Immigrant Heritage Month, a time to celebrate diversity and immigrants’ shared American heritage. The eighth annual Immigrant Heritage Month is dedicated to those who have contributed to the United States’ communities, economy and its vibrant diversity. Immigrant Heritage Month is our opportunity to reflect on our individual histories, and reach out to support, empower, and welcome newcomers to the United States and our communities and neighborhoods.

According to the City of Seattle about 20 percent of residents of King County are foreign born, and Washington State is the 8th leading refugee accepting state in the nation. There are 129 different languages spoken within Seattle Public Schools. Nationwide, about 40 million Americans were born outside the U.S.

Immigrants bring so much to our communities. Not only do they improve communities by their very being, but also make up a vital portion of the workforce that drives the U.S. economy. In the United States, immigrants are more likely to be working-age than their U.S.-born counterparts. This means immigrants are more likely to be active in the labor force, allowing them to contribute to the economy not only as consumers but also as taxpayers, helping fund social services and programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Welcoming Newcomers at the Y 

Welcoming newcomers is a vital part of helping few families and individuals find services, meet their neighbors and thrive in their new home. The Y is hard at work to create many ways for newcomers to engage with programs at the Y, and to connect them to resources. 

The Y has partnered with Turning Point Seattle for the last several years, to help provide scholarships to a very diverse population in the Shoreline area. Turning Point’s organization builds relationships at every level – with students, parents, teachers, principals, family advocate and community partners to help kids engage in tutoring and STEM programs throughout the year, and making sure that these brilliant, culturally, ethnically and economically diverse youth have a chance to thrive. 

While typically the Y’s partnership has helped send youth to overnight summer camps, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted gears. Students were suddenly doing school remotely, many youth programs and activities that would normally keep these kids busy after school were cancelled, and many of the families who are served by Turning Point found themselves in economic and emotional hardships. Many of these families immigrated from Eritrea in East Africa, so while their children are born here, families struggle with language barriers, the inability to afford to send their children to camp, and also where their only experience with camping was from being in the army. The Y’s camping programs help provide a different way to experience U.S. culture, which is a crucial step towards success for these youth.

New American Welcome Center

The New American Welcome Centers is a vital part of our mission to serve all people, exactly where they are. The Welcome Center is not only a physical space where newcomers can attend events, workshops, and find community, but also a philosophical space where the Y as a whole embraces an inclusive attitude toward immigrants and refugees in the community.

 The Welcome Center embodies the Y’s values of diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility.

In 2020, the Y of Greater Seattle received three grants for our New American Welcome Centers which are in use to provide services in mental health, hunger prevention and Whole Person Health during the pandemic. 

One way we used these grants was to serve over 29,583 at 46 sites across King County to help feed immigrant families who were greatly impacted by the pandemic through our  Hunger Initiatives Program. 

The Y is also working in partnership with the Seattle Ethiopian Community Center to provide wellness classes and nutrition workshops for seniors, women and young adults in the East African community. We have:

  • Extended the use of the Emergency Funding to broaden our partnership with our Ethiopian and Somali communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • We established and deployed the Health Equity Service Corps, charged connecting families to COVID-19 testing and treatment and assist with mobile and pop-up clinics. 
  • We also created a YouTube channel with health information and education presented through videos in Amharic (Ethiopian Language) which does not require reading skills to enable users with low/no literacy to navigate topics.
  • We learned many of our undocumented immigrant communities are afraid to participate in federal nutrition and food programs due to multiple immigration-related concern. We are working with trusted community and faith based organizations to address health inequities caused by COVID-19 in communities of color through food access, housing, mental health.
  • We’ve been at work to increase access to COVID vaccine appointments by helping to navigate the system and offering Uber transportation to vaccine appointments. 

Supporting Immigrant Health & Mental Health

In a 2019 community needs survey for South King County, community resident’s ranked “access to healthcare” as their number one health need, specifically availability and accessibility of mental health services in the region.

Y Social Impact Center, provides trauma informed, evidence based behavioral healthcare, with specialty staff in mental health, substance use, and 24-hour crisis response teams located throughout King County. With the Y-USA grant, Y Social Impact Center is able to build capacity for behavioral health services to the Kent Y, the newest New American Welcome Center opened in September 2019. 

The pairing of existing behavioral health services and the physical location of the Kent Y where we have a high density of immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam, provides a solid foundation to positively impact the newcomers in this service area.

Get Involved!

For the most up to date information and resource to support immigrants and refugees in our community, visit http://www.seattle.gov/iandraffairs

Join the movement #CelebrateImmigrants: June is Immigrant Heritage Month