A White Center resident connects with South Seattle College at the White Center Promise Celebration on August 22, 2014. • Photo by Tony Vo
A White Center resident connects with South Seattle College at the White Center Promise Celebration on August 22, 2014. • Photo by Mel Ponder

Over 100 community members and dozens of volunteers proudly wearing their “I Love White Center” t-shirts gathered for the fourth annual White Center Promise Celebration at the Greenbridge Plaza on August 22. The event consisted of back-to-school giveaways, local performances, raffle prizes, and over 25 local resource tables to connect families with services.

For community member Matt Vaeena, the celebration creates overall visibility for White Center and builds a sense of community. “It shows how many people are here,” he said.

White Center Promise was initiated four years ago by the White Center community and then further developed by three Core Partner organizations: Southwest Youth and Family Services, the White Center Community Development Association (WCCDA), and Highline Public Schools.

“[The work at White Center Promise] is a collaborative effort that began four years ago with now over 20 partners,” said White Center Promise director Laurie Bohm. “The idea is to provide all the necessary services starting from when a child is in the womb to when they graduate from high school until the day they pursue a form of post-secondary education and get a living wage job.”

It’s the goal of White Center Promise to empower children and families in White Center, Washington, by providing resources and opportunities in education, family leadership, and systems change work.

“[White Center Promise] encompasses everything that impacts the lives of families here in White Center,” said WCCDA executive director Sili Savusa. “It uses the door of education to help improve the lives of families, and works on neighborhood revitalization, community building, and supporting local businesses.”

The official White Center Promise Zone centers on a 1.36 mile portion of the unincorporated section of White Center. The schools included are White Center Heights Elementary, Mt. View Elementary and Cascade Middle School. The zone includes a large section of the downtown business district, two Hope VI communities (Greenbridge and Seola Gardens), three parks, as well as many apartment buildings and single family homes.

“The promise for me is that we believe in these kids, we believe in White Center, we believe our kids are just as smart and that there is a lot of richness and talent and leadership in our young students that need our support,” Savusa said.

According to the White Center Promise website, immigrants comprise 49 percent of households within the proposed zone, 40 percent of all households report limited English proficiency (LEP), and 82 percent of children at the three White Center focus schools are eligible for the free/reduced price lunch program, which is more than twice as high as the King County average. Because of these unique challenges and other factors, only 51 percent of White Center students go directly from high school to college.

“Education is one of the strongest tools to get a person out of poverty,” said White Center community member Temneet Sahle. “[White Center Promise’s focus on education] is an improvement, a hope for White Center.”

Programs like Early Learning Connectors have been able to flourish through the White Center Promise.

“Our kids are not ready for kindergarten and it hurts them in the long-term,” Bohm said.

Early Learning Connectors helps families to enroll their children in formal early learning programs.

“Another program worth celebrating is the network dedicated to immigration integration that works to help make sure all the people working on economic, civic, and linguistic support—and those who do not speak English or are coming from other countries—have everything they need,” Bohm said. “It ensures that these families feel welcome and know where to find support. It is a network of 10 organizations working cohesively together trying to get refugees’ and immigrants’ input into how to best organize in White Center.”

Bohm said there will be more efforts to make sure White Center’s young people go on to college.

“Oftentimes they make plans, but they don’t go,” Bohm said. “[We need to] make sure that youth that are no longer in school are reconnected to high school programs, GED programs, or some kind of post-secondary program that is the right fit for them.”

Ultimately, the White Center Promise is an investment towards equity. And that promise is worth celebrating.

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