South King County Community Impact Fund Supports Land Restoration Projects

by Vee Hua 華婷婷

For the third year in a row, the Port of Seattle will host its South King County Environmental & Jobs Symposium, on June 3, 2023, at Highline College in Des Moines, featuring a day of networking and presentations by community-led immigrant and BIPOC organizations on the front lines of environmental justice and economic recovery efforts in King County.

Last year, the Port — which works countywide — disbursed $687,000 in environmental funds to 18 organizations through its South King County Community Impact Fund (SKCCIF). The fund was established in 2019 to “develop equity-based partnerships and provide resources and support to historically underserved near-airport communities, addressing noise mitigation, environmental health, and sustainability.” In response to community feedback about more equitable grantmaking practices, the Port has begun working with “multicultural, multilingual liaisons to identify and remove barriers to participation” through co-creation of grant materials and conducting targeted outreach through respected community liaisons.

“[The SKCCIF] is $10 million invested into community-based organizations to be able to have targeted strategies to address their specific community needs,” stated Port of Seattle Commissioner Toshiko Hasegawa. “They apply for the grants, they’re vetted, they win them, and then they come back into consortia, where they not only show the Port of Seattle what they’re able to achieve with this culturally specific strategy, but they do it in community with the other grant recipients, where they are able to trade lessons learned and best practices.”

Last year, organizations that received funding included those focused on community gardens, such as Tilth Alliance, Federal Way Korean American Association, and Weed Warriors; those centered on youth activism, such as African Young Dreamers Empowerment Program and Partner in Employment; and a number of infrastructure projects, such as EarthGen, which helps create green stormwater projects at Washington schools.

One organization that will receive $60,000 over three years is Serve Ethiopians Washington, a nonprofit that offers numerous programs for low-income families, such as rental assistance and eviction prevention programs. Its funds from the Port of Seattle will go toward an urban restoration project at Angle Lake Park that will install native plants and teach community members about waste management.

Another organization receiving funds from the Port of Seattle is the Georgetown-based green infrastructure job company Dirt Corps, which will pay and train youth to restore the 4.5-acre Salmon Creek Park in Burien as a way of creating healthier public spaces.

“We are looking at ecological systems that have been disturbed by human activity, and we are working to help them thrive in a more positive way,” said Dirt Corps’ co-owner and director of community partnerships, Andrew Schiffer, regarding the definition of “restoration.” “That usually involves removing species that we call monoculture species … and then we plant species that have evolved in collaboration with the ecology of the region … including trees and shrubs and groundcovers.”

According to Tariku Messele, community service manager of Serve Ethiopians Washington, its restoration project includes biweekly park and trail cleanup sessions. It also recruits and trains forest stewards, youth between 16 and 24, who receive a stipend for their work.

“We removed the invasive plants, and then we had a planting event. We planted native trees,” Messele explained. “In addition to the planting and cleanup … education is also one of our targets — educating the park visitors and also people that come to our office [for other programs].”

Youth trainees from the Sharks and Restoration program lead volunteers in restoration work at Salmon Creek Park in Burien, where they have been learning about and practicing restoration and urban forestry. (Photo: Fedora Williams)

Dirt Corps also runs a program for youth. Its project began as a collaboration with Gabbi Gonzales, recreation coordinator at the City of Burien, who was interested in bringing a job training program to Burien communities. In collaboration with the Environmental Science Center and New Start High School, Dirt Corps runs a twice-a-year program that offers five youth per session an introduction to green job restoration skills. As Schiffer described, New Start High School tailors “programming for students with different challenges and needs” and is designed for “youth who haven’t necessarily fit in at other high schools.”

“I appreciate working with youth because of their candor … the excitement in some of them when they start to understand … that they can make a living by doing stuff outside, make a good livable wage doing stuff outside and working in the forest, and that they have sort of a say in what their park looks like,” he said.

The multicultural expertise of many of the organizations funded by the Port of Seattle also allows for unique community solutions. Serve Ethiopians Washington, for instance, has spearheaded a campaign at Angle Lake Park to create multilingual signage in Amharic, Somali, and Spanish, to reflect the communities around SeaTac and convey to them the ways they can better take care of the environment.

“Those who are impacted by the issue are the ones who are going to have the wisdom on how to address it. … Actually empowering community members to be able to lead on addressing the issues is exactly what environmental justice is all about,” explained Port Commissioner Hasegawa. “It’s about centering the people who are impacted and resourcing them to be able to address them.”

The Port of Seattle’s work also extends to efforts outside of grantmaking and builds in line with the County’s Strategic Climate Action Plan. Register for the South King County Environmental & Jobs Symposium on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at Highline College in Des Moines, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

This Project is funded in part by the City of Seattle’s Environmental Justice Fund.

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the editor-in-chief of REDEFINE, a co-chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, and a film educator at the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they previously served as executive director and played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences. After a recent stint as the interim managing editor at South Seattle Emerald, they are moving into production on their feature film, Reckless Spirits, which is a metaphysical, multilingual POC buddy comedy. Learn more about them at

📸 Featured Image: Port of Seattle staff with members and volunteers from Serve Ethiopians Washington at an Angle Lake Park cleanup event in fall of 2022. (Photo courtesy Port of Seattle)

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