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Community Corner—Atlantic Street Center

Community Corner highlights the work of Seattle Human Services’ community partners in their own words. Our goal is to gather stories and photos that illustrate their amazing work on behalf of the people of Seattle. This post highlights Atlantic Street Center.

What is the role your organization fulfills in your community?

Atlantic Street Center pivots to support diverse in-need families and youth in our communities, specifically within South Seattle, King County, and North Pierce County. Our team provides programs that encompass behavioral health, early learning opportunities, after-school assistance, family support groups, and mobile advocacy for gender-based violence survivors.

These inclusive resources are designed to work with families and youth experiencing certain gaps in our communities. We realize our participants have the desire to be successful, healthy, and contributing members of society, but systemic oppression and racism as a mental health crisis can restrict our participants’ capabilities. They are left without the necessary tools to strive and thrive. Atlantic Street Center works to allocate these tools and provide our participants with pathways towards success.

Father and child posing with a certificate from Atlantic Street Center.

How does your partnership with Seattle Human Services (HSD) assist you in that role?

Because of our partnership with HSD, our Behavioral Health Program can continue CoRe, our therapeutic video gaming group that serves middle school-aged youth at no cost to them or the schools and organizations we work with. This completely mobile team brings social-emotional learning into schools and organizations to teach young people emotion regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal skills, and distress tolerance through video games. Through our partnership with HSD, we can meet young people literally where they are and provide them opportunities to learn useful social-emotional skills in ways that center around their interests.

HSD was also the leading driver in Atlantic Street Center establishing our Gender-Based Violence Support Program. This team can directly serve survivors of domestic violence, emotional abuse, and sexual and financial exploitation—and their children—through safety planning, housing assistance, and mental health services.

What is your organization’s origin story?

Atlantic Street Center was established in 1910 by two young Deaconesses of the United Methodist Church in response to a major population bump in Seattle. These Deaconesses—nurse Jesse Glaser and teacher Mary Jane Hepburn—originally called their organization the Deaconess Settlement, where they catered to the needs of Italian immigrant families in Rainier Valley. They offered educational, spiritual, and social aid to local families, including during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. This moment in time repeated itself when Atlantic Street Center provided support to families through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

How has your organization grown or developed in recent years?

The Deaconess Settlement experienced name changes over the next few generations and eventually became a more secular organization while still in partnership with the United Methodist Church. Officially becoming Atlantic Street Center in the 1980s, the organization focused on behavioral health and early education programming and advocacy primarily for youth and families of color. Atlantic Street Center was even an original site for the Seattle Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program.

In 1999, right next to their oldest building, Atlantic Street Center erected an additional location to be a counseling headquarters for children and youth. In the last 20 years, Atlantic Street Center opened an additional two facilities in Rainier Beach and Kent to answer the growing needs in South King County and North Pierce County, as well as establishing more refined programming. Some of these programs included an annual Summer Academy, a therapeutic video game program called CoRe, and the Gender-Based Violence Support Program to assist survivors with mental health, housing leads, and additional resources for them and their families’ safety.

Specifically, with the Gender-Based Violence Program, in recent years we have been able to add staff that bring in much-needed expertise and experience. This includes a housing specialist and bilingual mental health staff. And, as of this spring, we have been able to establish a 24/7 call line so we can support survivors in the evenings, on weekends, and holidays.

Why is it important for HSD and City of Seattle taxpayers to invest in community-led work?

Investment in community-led work rarely has negative outcomes. When there is investment in the community and its needs, everyone benefits. City leaders can leave a more positive impact on the neighborhoods they serve when they follow the culture of the community; trusting its members to state what they need and what is best for them. This type of relationship ensures leaders can make more informed and effective decisions with taxpayer dollars. Thus, community members can develop confidence in policymakers. This communicative cause and effect show fellow taxpayers that neighboring communities are worthy of fiscal and emotional investment. Money is not wasted, and policies are driven by intentionality and equity. Community-led work that is supported—not steered—by policymakers lays a framework of opportunity to be created by and to serve the people in that specific community; an asset that is supportive of those in need presently and uplifting to future generations.

How do your programs and services help to reduce the disparities experienced by people of color living in our region?

Culturally relevant tools and active listening help to make our programs and services intentional when it comes to supporting people of color in our region. As part of the support we offer, we believe it is important that our participants see themselves in our staff and feel understood. This connection helps our participants feel validated and heard when it comes to sharing their experiences.

Atlantic Street Center staff also do the internal work to ensure our learning never stops. In addition to hiring staff with experiences similar to those we serve, we meet regularly as an organization to discuss racial and socioeconomic disparities through our BARO (Being an Anti-Racist Organization) Group. Atlantic Street Center’s intentionality behind ongoing learning and listening to both staff and participants helps us make sure our programs support tearing down racial inequalities and inequities.

Tell us an example of how an HSD-funded program or service impacted the life of one of your community members?

The purpose of our CoRe Therapeutic Video Gaming Group is to instill Courage, Cooperation, Respect, and Resourcefulness in the young people we serve. As a prevention service, it offers young people opportunities to engage and build trusting relationships, become self-aware, be cognizant of others and their feelings, and tolerate distress. With these skills, youth are better able to navigate their world, communicate, and listen. In fact, 92% of youth who complete our CoRe program report increased skills in these areas.  

What motivates your staff or keeps you going?

Our staff is motivated by the thriving of our participants in big and small moments. We have witnessed shy youth open up to staff and their peers. We have also seen parents and grandparents marvel at their child’s success in therapy so much that they seek out counseling for themselves for the first time ever. Also, this past winter, The Seattle Times profiled Eli, an alum of our Gender-Based Violence Support Program. She explained her journey of escaping a violent partner, fleeing to safety with her child, and how she is now living on her own, working, and earning her bachelor’s in computer science. Overall, it is the growth of those we serve that inspires our staff.

The Atlantic Street Center staff continues to be motivated by the everyday wins of our participants because we know these milestones lead to long-term success and happiness.