Our office and warehouse are located between the International District and the Central District in Seattle. The I.D., as we call it, is comprised of Little Saigon, Chinatown, Japan Town, and a small Philippine community that, as far as I know, has not been given an official designation.
The city of Seattle decided to change the name from Chinatown to the “International District” in 1999. The Chinese were not having any of it. They had already been living in Chinatown for over one hundred years before the name was changed. They took down the street signs the city had put up and replaced them with “Chinatown” signs.
Most, if not all of the Japanese -Americans were sent to internment camps during the second world war. Many returned to find their homes and businesses appropriated by others, but their history and contributions to Seattle are still visible in the small businesses, restaurants, and trade organizations peppered throughout the neighborhood.
The Vietnamese community began arriving mostly after their dreams of independence took a wrong turn. Two thousand Vietnamese lived in Seattle in 1975. Today, almost twelve thousand call Seattle home. They are thriving in Seattle as they do everywhere they go. I’m not sure that we could survive at this point without banh mi and pho or the sound of their beautiful language.
The Central District was traditionally the home of Seattle’s African-Americans residents. Twenty years ago, the African-American population in the Central District accounted for around 70% of the neighborhood. Today, that figure is about 17%. Seattle has never had a very large African-American community but it sure had a vibrant one. You’ve no-doubt heard the stories about Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, and the other greats who played the jazz clubs that used to line the street our office is on today. They’re all quiet now, replaced by condos and mini strip malls.
As the area again finds itself in transition, many families are having a hard time keeping up. Rising costs for rent, food, health, and transportation are leaving some behind. And, as always, it’s the children and the schools that bear the brunt of the stresses, the dwindling funds, and the feeling of always being unsettled.
We wanted to help. We discovered a local organization called Communities In Schools that is dedicated to assisting disadvantaged young people stay in school and get ahead. We contacted them to see if there was anything that we could do. We don’t have much but we do have maps and globes. So we worked out an arrangement to periodically donate any maps and globes that maybe had a dent or a scratch and that we could no longer sell as new. The schools and the students love the donations and we have continued to work with them every year since.
We were thinking about the program one day and were preparing to make another donation when we started wondering if there was something more that we could do. Perhaps, instead of trying to help many children and many schools, we could do something more for just one young person that would make a lasting impact on their life.
When you decide you want to help someone, you might begin by thinking about yourself. What helped you when you were young and unsure? Who made a difference in your life and how? What did you need or wish for before you really knew very much about anything? We thought that a sense of belonging or a sense of purpose and responsibility would be a wonderful gift. So we decided to offer someone a job.
We will be starting our new intern program this summer in association with Communities In Schools and we’re looking forward to meeting our new student helper very soon.