by Ronnie Estoque
The Cham Refugees Community (CRC), a local nonprofit organization that provides educational, social, and cultural services to Cham and other ethnic minorities in South Seattle, is in the proposal process of upgrading their building space into a 12,000-square-foot community center and religious space. Throughout the years, the CRC has been able to acquire property at 5945 39th Avenue South, as well as four other residential properties adjacent to their address. The proposal has been in the works for years through grassroot efforts by local Cham community members pitching in for the property purchases.
“The elderly and the families continue to still donate despite struggling because it was very important to have a space to meet,” Sarya Sos, CRC’s program manager, said. “We don’t do interest in our community because we follow kind of the Muslim kind of teachings … and so borrowing money with interest is out of the picture.”
Members of the Cham community who had extra cash set aside pooled together money to purchase the five properties over a span of 40 years, with the CRC eventually repaying, with no interest, those who sought repayment; others saw it as an opportunity solely to donate to building a space for gathering. As they have grown, the CRC has identified the need to expand their community space to increase their services and programming, which largely focus on youth and the elderly.
The CRC is awaiting approval for their master use permit (MUP) from the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections. They intend to put forth their application for construction once approved.
Washington State Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley and her office worked closely with the CRC and their president, Asari Mohamath, on their application for capital budget dollars through Washington State’s local projects budget-funding process. Her office advocated for the CRC’s proposal in the Capital Budget Committee, which resides in the State House.
“I have lived near the Cham community and community center site for many years, so it was wonderful to speak with community to prioritize their work over the last 40 years to see this vision of a community center through,” Harris-Talley said.
Harris-Talley hopes that once built, the community center will help the CRC in their mission of supporting the local South Seattle area, particularly the Cham community. Her sponsorship was able to net the CRC $500,000 towards the project.
“Over 1,600 Cham individuals and families in the Seattle, Skyway, and Renton area utilize their services. Everything from meals to medical care to tutoring for youth — CRC provides what the community needs,” Harris-Talley said.
The CRC was also able to garner an additional $500,000 through a partnership with Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative, with funds being partially allocated to hire local community member volunteers as full-time staff to lead and guide the project. They hope that this increase in capacity will translate into an accelerated process and bring the project to fruition sooner.
“We’re hoping within the next few months, we’ll get the permit and we can ground break. The idea is also once we ground break, folks will be more inclined to donate as they see the actual development,” Sos said. “We have the newer generation coming in like myself, and yet at the same time, [we’re] working hand-in-hand with the elderly. So it’s been just kind of an amazing kind of intergenerational experience, just learning about the ins and outs of the community, how they’re just able to thrive all these years — decades, even.”
Those interested in supporting the development of a new CRC community center building can contact CRC project coordinator Slayman Appadolo via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The CRC is also accepting financial donations for their redevelopment via PayPal (CCC@crcseattle.org).
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: The Cham Refugees Community is awaiting approval for a master use permit of their new community building space. (photo: Ronnie Estoque)
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