BY KEN MOCHIZUKI
Examiner Staff

Umbrella dancers from the Huayin Performing Arts Group, organized by Xiaoming Wu, perform in front of an audience at Hing Hay Park in Chinatown/International District on Saturday, Sept. 30. The dancers were part of the 2006 Moon Festival, hosted by The Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce on behalf of CID community groups. Performances included lion dancing, singing, dancing, demonstrations, raffle drawing and free Moon Cakes giveaway to seniors. Photo by Lauren Sayoc.

Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling & Referral Service (ACRS), has seen what a lack of available parking spaces has done to the Service’s clients at its current site within the International District Village Square building near Eighth Avenue South and South Dearborn Street.

“Sometimes they arrive very upset because they can’t find parking, they’re late for an appointment, and then they have difficulty focusing on counseling sessions,” Narasaki said. Sometimes clients give up on their appointment altogether because they can’t find parking, she added. ACRS case managers who leave the building to visit a client often have trouble finding parking when they return.

Parking problems will be part of the past when ACRS moves to its new home in 2008 on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, between Walden/Della and Charlestown Streets, just south of the intersection of King Way and Rainier Avenue South. A groundbreaking ceremony on the 82,000 square-foot site will occur on Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. Dignitaries expected to attend include Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Christine Gregoire.

The new $19.1 million ACRS facility will include 154 parking spaces available in underground and street-level garages and on the street. A Metro bus stop will be in front of the building, a Sound Transit stop will be four blocks away, and ACRS will be right on the light rail line, Narasaki said.

What started out as a mental health and counseling service since 1973, ACRS has been providing a broad array of social services, job training and mental health programs for low-income Asian Pacific Americans (APAs), with many of its clients being recent immigrants and refugees who speak limited English. ACRS has outgrown its present 24,000 square-foot space it has occupied since 1998, as the number of clients 165 ACRS employees serve has increased by 45 percent since that year. ACRS currently has over 19,000 clients and serves 20 percent of the entire APA population in Seattle.

“We can’t even fit all of our staff into the current multi-purpose room,” said ACRS Communications Coordinator Carina del Rosario.

ACRS’ move south was intentional. With burgeoning APA populations in locations such as Kent, Federal Way, Bryn Mawr-Skyway and White Center, “we are following our clients,” Narasaki said, adding that 55 percent of ACRS’ clients live south of the International District. The APA “population is growing so rapidly,” with APAs being the largest racial minority group in both Seattle and King County, and the second largest racial minority group in Washington State, she said.

With a staff that speaks over 30 languages and operates on a $8.4 million annual budget, ACRS programs include Aging and Adult Services which provide in-home services for disabled APAs; Behavioral Health Counseling; a Children, Youth and Family program that includes in-school intervention, leadership development and summer programs; Civic Engagement that includes instruction and encouragement to participate in the American political process; Domestic Violence Education and Intervention – Batterers Treatment; Information and Referral; the International District Legal Clinic offering free legal assistance to low-income APAs in their native language; Naturalization Services; Nutrition Services and Food Bank; Substance Abuse and Recovery, which now includes treatment/counseling for gambling addiction; and Vocational and Employment Services.

Statistics compiled by ACRS show that the Food Bank is the most often used service, followed by information and referral and Aging and Adult Services. The ACRS Food Bank was the “third-most used food bank in King County, serving 5,270 people,” according to ACRS’ 2004 Annual Report.

The Food Bank is often the “entry way to other services,” del Rosario said. ACRS staff or volunteers observe clients using the Bank, and then can steer them to other services such as the substance abuse recovery program, mental health counseling, job assistance or “citizenship help.” The Naturalization Services program has helped immigrants from over 50 countries attain U.S. citizenship, she said, and not only APAs use the Food Bank, as there are now immigrant clients from Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin/South America. The most recent new group using ACRS services have been South Asians, particularly members of the Sikh community.

The new ACRS home will include more counseling and meeting rooms; an Activity Center; a commercial-size kitchen and large multi-purpose room “for ACRS’ senior nutrition program, cooking classes and community events,” states an ACRS press release; a computer lab for job searches and computer instruction (the current facility has less than 10 computer stations; the new facility will have up to 40); an art room that will also be used for “art therapy for clients with mental illness”; a “New Espresso Stand operated by mental health clients learning work and life skills”; more classrooms for English-as-a-Second Language classes; a National Training Center “for student interns and volunteers to learn how to provide professional, culturally competent services to APA clients”; and a garden “to grow healing herbs and nutritional vegetables for the ACRS Food Bank.”

One hundred more employees will be added to the ACRS staff, Del Rosario said.

Since ACRS will own the facility, the organization can “control our costs,” she said. Rooms such as the Activity Center will be made available for community use.

As of the end of August, ACRS has raised $10.9 million of the $19.1 million goal to pay for its new facility. Major contributors have been private and public grants from Washington State, the City of Seattle, King County, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

ACRS was founded by a group of APA community activists who recognized the need for “culturally appropriate” counseling services for the early ‘70s APA community, according to the “ACRS Timeline.” Beginning with one desk at the Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church on Beacon Hill, social work students and volunteers provided “mental health counseling, information, referral and advocacy services.”

“The first counseling sessions were held in restaurant booths,” Narasaki said. “After 33 years, it’s time to own our own facility and remain easily accessible.”

Narasaki has heard it all – the “model minority myth” that APAs are all successful and don’t need services such as those ACRS provides, even though statistics show that nearly 15 percent of APAs in the Puget Sound area live below the federal poverty level.

“The stereotype is incorrect,” she said. APAs “have all the problems all people have, but they also have cultural and linguistic barriers. ACRS was created to bridge those barriers – creating hope and opportunity in 30 different languages.”

For more information, visit www.acrs.org.
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