Welcoming Newcomers at the Y

Last updated: October 12, 2021, at 3:39 p.m. PT

Originally published: October 12, 2021, at 3:39 p.m. PT

A photo of a young, smiling participant with a hijab, sitting at a table with other participants.

The Y’s New American Welcome Centers (NAWCs) are designed to support immigrants—also referred to as newcomers—as they fully integrate into American society and prepare receiving communities to be welcoming, inclusive, and affirming. NAWCs accomplish this through a combination of integration services, collaborations with community leaders and businesses, and strategies to connect and build cross-cultural understanding between immigrants and U.S.-born residents. The NAWCs are a vital part of our Y 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 gathering space where the Y continues to connect with and learn from immigrants and refugees in the community.  

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.  

At the Y, strengthening communities is core to our mission, and we are committed to helping all people reach their full potential. We believe the strength and cohesiveness of our communities are linked to the overall health of the nation. With more than 40 million foreign-born individuals living in the United States, and growing, it is more important than ever to foster an environment that encourages immigrant integration and community cohesion.   

New American Welcome Centers Build Communities that are: 

  • Cohesive: A vibrant society shared and valued by established and newcomer residents of different experiences, histories, ethnicities, and backgrounds.  
  • Revitalized: A revitalization of declining communities through the contributions of immigrant families working in tandem with their U.S.-born neighbors. 
  • Inclusive: Communities welcome and embrace all dimensions of diversity and celebrate the rich cultural fabric of our society.
  • Globally connected: Increased productivity and a robust global economy through an expanded base of multi-lingual and multicultural workers, consumers, taxpayers, and entrepreneurs. 
  • Vibrant democracies: A social and cultural environment in which all groups are accepted as equal members of society with the opportunity—and responsibility—to engage and contribute to the common good. 
  • Secure: A more secure nation where all members of society—regardless of race, national origin, or socio-economic status—live in dignity and equality.  

Growing New American Welcome Centers During the Pandemic   

In 2020, the Y of Greater Seattle received three grants for our New American Welcome Center initiatives to provide services in mental health, hunger relief and whole person health during the pandemic.   

One way we used these grants was to serve over 45,913 across seven locations in Kent, White Center, Burien and Auburn to help feed immigrant families who were greatly impacted by the pandemic and broader economic challenges through our Food 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 Emergency Funding to broaden our partnership with our Ethiopian and Somali communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism.   

We established and deployed the Health Equity Service Corps, charged with connecting families to COVID-19 testing and treatment, and to assist with mobile and pop-up clinics.   

We also created a YouTube channel with health information and education presented through videos in Amharic, an Ethiopian language.  

We learned many of our undocumented immigrant communities are afraid to participate in federal nutrition and food programs due to multiple immigration-related concerns. 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 free transportation to vaccine appointments. 

Supporting Immigrant Health & Mental Health  

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

The Y Social Impact Center provides trauma-informed, evidence-based behavioral healthcare with specialty staff focused on mental health and substance use. Also, we have 24-hour crisis response teams located throughout King County. With a Y-USA grant, the Y’s Social Impact Center is building capacity for behavioral health services at the Kent Y, where 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 much needed supports during a time of unique stressors.   

Welcoming newcomers is a collective effort in the name of healthy, connected and thriving communities. It is because of the commitment of donors, staff, and community partners that the NAWCs are possible. Thank you for your support.


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


Category: Impact Newsletter