The Eastside cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond and Kirkland once again participated in the national Welcoming Week program, which works to support diverse communities and build relationships among neighbors through various events from Sept. 14-23.
Welcoming Week was started in 2009 by the nonprofit organization Welcoming America, which works to support diversity through local organizations across the country. Welcoming Week is a national program that encourages local cities and organizations to sponsor community events to bring people together to reduce social barriers.
Welcoming Week on the Eastside kicked off with a big question-and-answer session held at the Redmond Community Center on Sept. 14. Hosted by the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition (ERIC) and cosponsored by the city of Redmond, local Muslim community members held the “Ask a Muslim or Two: Living with the Travel Ban,” during which attendees could ask their fellow community members any questions they have had.
Debbie Lacy, co-founder and executive director of ERIC, explained that her organization originally brought Welcoming Week to East King County in 2016 and it has been a successful program ever since. Lacy said that for this year’s first event they decided to take the popular question-and-answer format and create adult-youth pairings to answer questions from attendees.
“We have youth paired with adults from the Muslim community that are facilitating their table conversations,” Lacy said. “Last year we did the first one of these, focused on women who wear the hijab, people could come and ask questions about that experience. This year we decided to focus on travel ban and what have been the impacts to local families dealing with that ban.”
People gathered around several tables set up around the room and asked a variety of questions they wanted to know about the Muslim faith and community.
Interlake High School junior Mina Zavary was one of the facilitators that night and answered questions regarding the role of women in the Muslim culture, wearing the hijab and how her community was affected by the travel ban executive order in 2017.
“Asking questions is such an amazing way to connect and I think the reason why a lot of negative stuff happens is because people don’t know. They are not educated on the topic, or they are curious but don’t have any way to get questions answered,” Zavary said. “You teach someone something and they go home with new knowledge, which they spread to other people, so it’s like a chain reaction. You started a new spark of questions and curiosity. I think I leave (these events) super happy, inspired and overall excited for the future.”
Nura Adam, board member of ERIC and founder of Adam’s Interpreting Services, also worked with Lacy on organizing the event and was one of the co-sponsors. Adam, a professional mediator, has worked in King County for more than 20 years and has seen firsthand how much the area has grown, not only in size but in diversity as well. Helping to make connections among neighbors has been one of her primary goals and events like Welcoming Week have proven very successful in the past. She hopes to keep pushing it forward in the future as well.
“I have been in the interfaith community for 22 years and I can’t begin to tell you how that has enriched my life, getting to know people of different faith and getting to know the common core commonalities, which totally outweighs the difference,” Adam said. “Welcoming Week is focused on once a year, but it’s a continuous effort.”
Welcoming Week was celebrated last week with several events across Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond and Kirkland.