Renovated Headquarters Expands the Reach of the Refugee Women’s Alliance

by Carolyn Bick

The Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) will soon be able to offer expanded services and new programs for the more than 12,000 families it serves annually once its headquarters’ renovation is complete.

Founded by four refugee women, the 33-year-old nonprofit focuses on helping refugees and immigrants settle into life in the United States, offering everything from childcare services to job training to case management. On Thursday, Nov. 8, it held a small, private  event to show the new space at its main headquarters along Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The $6.2 million project is scheduled to be completed in 2019. Though the original budget projected the expansion to cost $5.5 million, Capital Campaign Director Ramlah Olt said the nonprofit encountered some project overruns.

A family attends a private event to view the new space at ReWa’s main campus, on Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

Thus far, the nonprofit has raised just over $5 million through both grant funding from the state of Washington and private donations, including a $500,000 gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Olt said ReWa is also waiting to hear if it has secured two other private grants.

The organization hopes to open the Early Learning Center portion of the buildout for new students by mid-2019. Seattle does not have sufficient preschool space, particularly for low-income families. In partnership with the state and the City of Seattle, ReWa is trying to help fill the need through its Early Learning Centers, which provide childcare for children up to age 3 and preschool for children ages 3 – 5.

The new space goes toward filling the schooling need, Olt said. The nonprofit is a Seattle Preschool Program participant. It has an Early Learning Center site on Beacon Hill, where it serves 105 children per year, and a new, second site on Lake City Way that opened in October, and serves 80 children. Currently, the headquarters only has room for childcare for 25 children. The additional space will allow ReWA to serve 55 preschoolers at its headquarters.

This extra space is important not just for the children but for their parents as well.

“The parents are often encouraged to participate in parent education workshops, where they learn anything from cultural practices — things that are perhaps different from their home countries, in parenting — to how to complete the public school enrollment forms, which are not straightforward for even native English speakers,” Olt said. “We also go into subjects like positive discipline, what that is, and why it is effective”

Buttons sit on a table, during a private event to view the new space at ReWa’s main campus, on Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

The expanded space will also allow for private case management space, which Olt said is extremely important, given the nonprofit’s clientele. Right now, Olt said, most of the current floor plan for case management is open, which isn’t ideal for some of ReWa’s work with immigrants and refugees.

“The subjects that they cover with our family advocates or naturalization advocates is sensitive — whether it’s their immigration status, or their family status, or their employment status. They are sensitive things that most people would be much more comfortable speaking about in private, closed spaces,” Olt said.

There will also be a new gathering space on the headquarters’ second floor, named the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Gathering Hall. Olt said Boeing gave the nonprofit a $250,000 grant so the company could name the hall. In addition to providing a place for celebrations and performances, the hall will also function as a space for youth and adult classes, programs, and workshops. Olt said the new square footage will allow them to serve an additional 300 adults per year.

Both youth and adult students will also have access to a new computer lab. There will also be a new indoor, after school youth gym program in a space immediately adjacent to ReWa’s teen resource center.

Featured Photo: ReWa staffer Sagal Osman Danan, center, places a butterfly sticker on a map meant to trace event attendees’ origins, during a private event to view the new space at ReWa’s main campus, on Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)