From Strangers to Neighbors: Welcoming Our Changing Community

Last updated: September 11, 2019, at 3:56 p.m. PT

Originally published: April 20, 2017, at 2:39 p.m. PT

Welcoming to all – a simple mission that becomes even more meaningful as our region grows and evolves. We know that when all residents are able to reach their full potential, their talents and contributions will create a better future for our community.

King County’s immigrant population has grown 64 percent since 2000, and thanks to support from donors, volunteers, and community partners we’ve created opportunities for new immigrants and refugees to get connected to their communities through two New American Welcome Centers. The centers provide multi-lingual information, health resources, all-ages ESL classes, afterschool enrichment, housing referrals, and multi-cultural celebrations.

“For more than 150 years the Y has been able to adapt and change to community needs, something I’m passionate about. Finding out who is in our community and how we are serving them,” shares Paul Lwali, former Bellevue Family YMCA Branch Executive.

Navigating life in a new city or state can be daunting for anyone, but gaining familiarity with a new language and culture creates additional challenges.

“Providing opportunities for newcomers to positively connect with their community builds a solid foundation for successful integration and well-being at every stage of life.”

As the son of African immigrants, this work particularly resonates with Paul. “The key words in our mission is 'all people.' Our job is to meet community needs and make sure all people feel included.”

During Welcoming Week, an annual series of events held at YMCAs across the nation, the YMCA of Greater Seattle hosted more than 20 different cultural activities celebrating the values that unite us and make our communities more welcoming to everyone who calls our region home. Paul describes the experience at the Bellevue Y.

“We had a wonderful bazaar-type atmosphere with a lot of rich, different cultures sharing food, dance, music, customs, and neighbors getting to know each other.”

“As our county rapidly changes, intentionally engaging newcomers opens up more doors to tell the Y story to a new audience that probably were not that engaged,” explains Paul. “This is just a continuation of the work we’re already doing….but now we have new stories to tell.”

WATCH Transform with Us: Paul