February 27, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 9

News

Housing-based mentoring hits home for low-income residents and volunteers

By Dakshina T / Contributing Writer

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In the study room at Greenwood Public Library, Maggie (not her real name) who is 38 and lives in the nearby Cate Apartments, and Carrie Danielson, a 33 year-old Western Washington University graduate, chat and laugh like old friends.

Actually, the women have known each other for just five weeks. They were brought together by a partnership between Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education and Seattle’s nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). The program pairs tenants of its buildings looking to gain job skills with university students and faculty who have studied adult education. LIHI owns and operates the Cate Apartments.

The program, which started in the fall, was renewed in January when a group of students were honored for their work as mentors. Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard, Washington Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and LIHI’s Executive Director Sharon Lee, delivered the awards.

Danielson volunteered at the suggestion of a former professor. She received a master’s in the Adult Education Program in 2008 and wanted to make the best use of her after-work hours.

“It has been an enriching experience for me as well,” Danielson said. “It feels great to befriend a fellow woman in need and help her build a new career profile.”

Danielson is helping Maggie realize her dream of a career change from a hair stylist to an office administrator. The two meet once a week for an hour or two to discuss resumé writing, online job applications and interviewing.

Maggie immigrated to Seattle from Iran seven years ago. Last year, when the salon where she was working asked her to come to work for just two days per week, she decided to call it quits. Determined to make a career shift, she earned a certificate in Business Technology from Shoreline Community College, which took her about a year. But even so, getting a job has proved much more difficult than she thought. 

“I am so happy that I got to meet Carrie and now I feel really confident and positive about achieving my dream,” she said.

“Maggie is always excited about learning and that makes my task simple and easy,” Danielson said.

The one-on-one program has been found to be more effective than group forums involved in developing skills, according to Sarah Tapp, volunteer coordinator at LIHI. The individualized program caters to the specific needs of the residents, she said.

“We fix up an initial meeting to introduce the pair, and then the volunteer decides on a roadmap to assist the resident for a 10- to 12-week schedule keeping his/her goals in mind,” Tapp said.

The program is available at ten LIHI sites in Seattle. Still, there are not enough volunteers available to meet the demand. About 12 residents are currently on the waiting list, and Tapp says the list will be even longer if she does her pending outreach program at the sites.

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