Scott Gutierrez, Seattle Pi
Despite its wet and mild climate, the greater Seattle area is home to many East African immigrants, with estimates ranging from 25,000 to 40,000.
“It’s probably more than that,” said Mulu Retta, a member of the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association.
That’s one reason why Retta and her association are trying to start a new Ethiopian community center in South Seattle. They envision a central gathering place that provides youth activities and cultural events, services for seniors and a spot for celebrating holidays, weddings and graduations.
They’ve offered to buy the Faith Temple Community Church building at 8323 Rainier Ave. S. in Rainier Beach for $1.6 million. The church’s congregation moved to a new location and put the building up for sale.
But they’re only halfway to raising $200,000 they need for a down payment. Despite the slow economy, they raised $100,000 in a few months. They’re hoping others in their community will rise to help before an Aug. 31 deadline, said Retta, chairwoman of the association’s building fund committee.
On Saturday, they’re holding a fundraising dinner at the Northwest African American Museum at 2300 S. Massachusetts St. Tickets are $30 and the dinner starts at 4 p.m. They’ll continue raising money throughout the month.
Those who are interested can contact the Ethiopian Community Mutual Association at (206) 325-0304 or by e-mail at ECMA@westoffice.net.
Retta says there is clearly a need. Her generation, which overcame hardships in emigrating from Ethiopia to the U.S., has raised children who grew up outside their native country and language. While many successfully bridged the two cultures and are off to bright futures, she and others want to reverse an increase in Ethiopian youth who struggle and wind up in trouble with the law. The association would like to help counter that problem with a center where youth could go for activities, mentoring and cultural learning.
“We’d like to leave something for the next generation,” she said.
They’d also like to establish a meeting spot and support center for elders. In addition, they’d like to provide more resources for new Ethiopian immigrants and for parents who adopt children from Ethiopia.
They’ve lined up contractors and others to volunteer. At some point in the future, they might be able to apply for a matching grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. But the city’s grant program doesn’t cover land purchases or acquisitions.
At almost 10,000 square feet, the church would provide the space and kitchen size they need. Currently, the association leases an office on Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue South. But it’s not big enough for the type of services they’d like to provide.
Hanna Petros, an association member and realtor who found the church for sale, says the local Ethiopian community has demonstrated before that it can rally together to achieve big goals. She points to the St. Gebriel church, built by the local Ethiopian community a decade ago in the Central Area.
“There is a tremendous amount of excitement. That’s why we’ve been able to raise what we have in a such a short time,” she said.