It was an auspicious day at Tacoma Community House (TCH) on Oct. 12, as a big crowd gathered for the official groundbreaking ceremony for a new TCH facility, set for a grand opening in about a year.
Located right next door the current TCH on South L Street, the new building will double the current building’s size, with 27,000 square feet to include a multi-purpose meeting space open to the community, more classrooms for English language and basic education for adults, study space for students, room for employment workshops and job fairs, private interview space for confidential discussions between clients and staff, and additional bathrooms. The current building will remain open throughout construction so that there will be no interruption in services.
“It’s so wonderful to look out across this crowd and see so many friends, supporters, volunteers, contributors, current and former co-workers… It just feels like a family reunion. Thank you for being part of this momentous day for us,” said TCH Executive Director Liz Dunbar.
Among those present for the groundbreaking were Rep. Jake Fey (WA-27th), Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, Pierce County Council Members, Tacoma City Council Members including Keith Blocker, Congressman Derek Kilmer (WA-6th) and Rep. Laurie Jinkins (WA-27th), who is also a former TCH board chair.
Named “Embracing the American Promise: United Communities Campaign,” fundraising began in 2015 and efforts have brought in more than $12 million so far of the $13.6 million goal.
“That’s a very intentional name for us,” Dunbar said. “It is what we are all about here at Tacoma Community House – helping immigrants, refugees and others achieve that American promise and unite the community so that we are all living in harmony.”
Initial thoughts were to perhaps keep TCH’s current building, built more than 35 years ago, and remodel it, but upon consulting with Korsmo Construction and BCRA architects, it became clear that a whole new building is what is really needed to be most energy efficient and programmatically efficient, Dunbar said. “It meant raising more money but also that it would result in a building that will last into the future. This will really improve the space for clients, staff and community.”
TCH has a 108-year history as a welcoming home to immigrants and refugees in Tacoma, and this includes numerous leading citizens in Tacoma today. Some examples: successful business owner Joe Stortini (Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante in Tacoma and Mama Stortini’s in Puyallup) grew up in the neighborhood and his father became a U.S. citizen through classes at TCH; Ernie Corino of longtime Pierce County company Cornio & Associates; and Barbara Guzzo, mother of Washington State Solicitor General Noah Purcell.
“They all speak very lovingly about their experience at Tacoma Community House, how it helped them in their lives and now in return they are paying it forward as supporters of our campaign,” Dunbar said.
Today, TCH serves more than 3,500 people from more than 100 countries each year. It is the only organization between Seattle and Portland to provide a powerful combination of education, employment, immigration and crime victim services.
When it was his turn to speak at the groundbreaking, Congressman Kilmer addressed the current climate in America toward refugees and how important it is to support an oasis of love and hope like TCH.
“Right now, I think it’s safe to say that there is real discord in our country regarding issues around immigration and refugees,” he told the crowd. “Why take in refugees? Why offer classes to ensure that we’re supporting immigrant communities? Our collective response as a community is because that is who we are, and certainly who Tacoma is. It’s the American thing to do. We point out the ethic that’s at the base of the Statue of Liberty that greeted my mom and grandmother as they came into this country 70 years ago: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’”
Rep. Jinkins echoed Kilmer’s words. “In times like these, when we have leadership in another Washington who is seeking not to welcome others and live the American Dream, it is really wonderful to be here at this site today. We will be welcoming…we will make sure that every person who moves here gets a chance to live the American Dream. We will help them become part of our community and make our community stronger because of that.”
To learn more about TCH and to find out how you can donate to the new building, visit www.TacomaCommunityHouse.org.