Ten Non-Profits Receive Grants From Port of Seattle’s South King County Fund to Improve COVID-19 Economic Recovery

by Jack Russillo

Nearly $1 million in grants from the Port of Seattle will be dispersed to ten organizations to help lead equitable economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 in South King County.

The move comes after the Port of Seattle Commissioners approved a recommendation at their meeting on December 15. The funds will be dispersed by the end of January.  

The money comes from the Port’s South King County Fund, which it established in 2018 to improve the Port’s outreach and partnership with South King County’s communities, particularly those living in proximity to Sea-Tac International Airport, which the Port manages. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck at the beginning of 2020, the Port wrote new policies that expanded the uses of the Fund, making more money available for projects specifically focused on equitably recovering from the effects of the virus, such as the large-scale layoffs of people living and working in Port-related industries. Earlier this year, the Port also expanded the reach of a previous environmental grant program to benefit more South King County communities.

“These recommendations mark a moment of cultural transformation at the Port,” said Bookda

Gheisar, Senior Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Port of Seattle. “Internally, in the way we connect our values to our work and externally in the way we connect our community to opportunity. We specifically sought to build equitable partnerships and expand the Port’s economic sphere of influence by partnering with organizations rooted in the communities they serve.”

The Port of Seattle Commissioners worked with a panel of volunteer community members to decide on the recipients of the grants. 2020 is the first of a five-year pledge to make $10 million available to address noise mitigation, environmental health, sustainability, and economic development in the communities of South King County. In future, the Port’s South King County Fund’s priorities include seeking community input to inform Port decision making, ​supporting Port equity policies and practices, and helping innovative projects expand.

For this first funding cycle, which comes on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Port is awarding grants to organizations serving communities most deeply impacted by the current economic crisis in projects connected to Port-related industries, including aviation, maritime, construction trades, and green career industries. 

“Oftentimes, economic development programs are large-scale, statewide, and they involve tourism, but we’re trying to look at a much more microlevel here,” said Peter Steinbreuck, President of the Port of Seattle Commission. “We want to really target where some of the needs are greatest… This provides some relief during one of the hardest times in our generation. This is critical relief that can only add to good things and we can build upon in the years ahead as we recover and things hopefully start to restore more of a stable, post-COVID-19 future.”

In total, $981,881 will be distributed. The ten recipients include El Centro de la Raza, Cares of Washington, Chief Seattle Club, Partners in Employment, Asian Counseling and Referral Services, and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), among others. 

A full list and summary of the organizations’ projects can be found here
The Chief Seattle Club will use its $100,000 grant to fund a new apprenticeship program at its new Sovereignty Farm in Tukwila. Run through its Native Work program, the Indigneous-designed job-training program for houseless American Indian/Alaska Native people will educate its apprentices about land and water stewardship, garden design and planning, and invasive species removal, all preparing them for green jobs at Port habitat sites on the Duwamish River.

“I think that this opportunity that the Port has given is so needed,” said Lacey Warrior, the Native Works Manager at the Chief Seattle Club. “We’re so very grateful to the Port for this grant. We’re very excited about this farm developing and I think that for our members and apprentices this is a huge opportunity for healing. And that’s just one organization that these funds are affecting and impacting. I can see their efforts making a larger, really great impact in the community.”

“I really appreciate what the Port did to enable small organizations like ours to apply for the grant,” said Mar Brettmann, BEST’s Executive Director. “They were really thoughtful about how to create equity in their process, which I really enjoyed learning… The process opened up avenues for different kinds of organizations to be able to apply and they really focused on community-led organizations, which was important. I was really impressed by the thoughtfulness that the Port put into how to build equity, even in the process of asking for the proposals themselves.”

BEST will use its $100,000 grant to expand its mission of serving human trafficking survivors and at-risk youth living in the near-airport communities of Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila. BEST’s grant will help further fund economic recovery in South King County by delivering employment readiness training, supporting employers in Port-related industries, and creating paid internships and job opportunities for human trafficking survivors in Port-related industries. BEST will also outsource its stress, trauma, and resilience training course to other organizations, including the Port, and it will continue to develop the course for other employers in port-related industries. 

With its grant, El Centro de la Raza will provide outreach, education, and referrals for Latinos and other multi-cultural program participants to relevant pre-apprenticeship programs in Port-related industries such as construction, carpentry, and maritime trades. This new project will focus on communities surrounding El Centro’s Federal Way office, which it bought last year. 

“We’re extremely excited about getting this grant,” said Estela Ortega, the Executive Director for El Centro de la Raza. “Part of it is that the dollars are focused on South King County, where 56 percent of Latinos in the county live, basically displaced because of the lack of affordability of housing in Seattle.”

“I think when we begin to see the outcomes of these grants and what we can accomplish and how far we can stretch these dollars to improve lives and to support communities in these ways, I think they will begin to speak for themselves and inspire others through the examples that are already beginning to show,” said Commissioner Steinbrueck. “There’s more work to be done, but we will be hearing a year from now some of the outcomes of these efforts that I hope will inspire others to take notice, and maybe even replicate at other levels of government, and also to give people the attempt at what can be possible with a little bit of help.”

Jack Russillo has been reporting in western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. 

Featured image: Statue of Roberto Maestes at El Centro de la Raza. (Photo by Susan Fried)