Of Home & Community

I discovered Rainier Avenue Church after a recent move from the other side of the country at a time when I was seeking familiarity, comfort and community. After spending some time there, I realized I had found a group of friendly, genuine and God-loving people; I had found a home. Since joining Rainier Avenue Church and volunteering as a tutor in the Learning Center during Urban Impact’s Community Night this past year, I imagine those who gather together as neighbors on Wednesday evenings experience a similar feeling.

Community Night is a time for relationships and fellowship. It is a time when we can slow our busy lives and share a meal, a lesson and a short time of life together. One amazing aspect of Community Night is it is a place for the entire family -- everyone is welcomed and included. For the scholars, that place specifically is in the Learning Center. It is a place of education, of respect and most importantly of love. The relationships I form with these scholars are incredibly special to me. I have no sufficient words to describe the feeling I get when Riley* begs me to stand by her during the singing of the motivational song, “Something Inside So Strong” or when Damian* dramatically improves in the math skills we work on each week. My investment in the children in our neighborhood comes from a belief that each scholar can succeed in their education and break a cycle of poverty through opportunity.


During my short time in the Learning Center, I have already seen a positive transformation in some of the scholars I have gotten to know over the weeks. Our space of stability, empowerment and safety provides an environment in which everyone can thrive. It is this feeling of true community that brings me back home. 

*Name changed to protect privacy

Originally from Rocky Mount, NC, Nancy Thai is a resident of South Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood. She enjoys reading, soaking up the sun outdoors, photography, eating lots and lots of watermelon in the summer and adventuring. Nancy says she loves her neighborhood because “ It’s a small and cozy community that feels like home.”

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Published on by Urban Impact.

2015 Day of Social Action

Urban Impact's CDF Freedom Schools® program sites at Rainier Avenue Church and Rainier Beach High School have explored civic engagement in this six week educational summer program. On July 31st, 2015, Rainier Beach High School scholars, ninth through eleventh graders, led a walk for funding of public transportation from Seattle Public Schools and walked over a mile to Seattle City Hall to raise awareness of the Freedom Schools education model. At CityHall, the Rainier Beach High School scholars met up with the Rainier Avenue Church scholars (ages 5-13) for a time of Harambee, joining together for cheers and chants. Scholars from both program sites and all ages shared their experiences, desires and dreams of how they could make a difference in their community. 


Background about the Day of Social Action

  • Across the nation, CDF Freedom Schools sites hold a Day of Social action, teaching youth to engage in community service and social justice advocacy. 

  • Elementary, Middle & High school students in Seattle Public School District are expected to walk to school unless they live two or more miles away.  This means students walk up to five miles a day, requiring them to wake up earlier and get home later. Students without ORCA cards have higher rates of truancy and absences, making it difficult to pass classes and graduate.  

  • Schools also receive less funding if they have high truancy and low graduation rates. Schools most affected by the "walk-zone rule" are in neighborhoods with lower income families, as many of these students do not have access to a vehicle or money to ride the bus daily.  

  • Students who walk several miles to and from school travel on streets with higher rates of crime than schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

  • 88% of students at RBHS qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch based on their families' income. School lunch is less expensive than round trip bus fare, which means families who cannot afford lunch should not be expected to pay daily for bus fare!

Washington State statistics that affect all young people:

  •  WA state sends more youth to jail for non-criminal offenses (skipping school, running away) than any other state in the country.  

  • High School dropouts make up nearly half of the prison population. Youth who drop out of high school are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than youth who graduate from high school.    

Click image to see pictures from the Day of Social Action here

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Published on by Urban Impact.

Press Release: Rainier Valley hosts Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® at Local Community Sites

130 scholars in K-10th grades enroll in high quality literacy program 


Contact: Marissa Ukosakul
Communications Associate

SEATTLE, WA - Urban Impact, a local community-based organization, hosted Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools® at two program sites from June 29 through August 7, 2015. Rainier Avenue Church and Rainier Beach High School (RBHS) sponsor sites will unite by hosting a finale event during the last week of the summer program. Read Lead, a California-based organization, also partnered with Urban Impact to establish this as the second CDF Freedom Schools model implemented in the state of Washington. Level I-III scholars, kindergarten through eighth grades, will proudly host a program finale at Rainier Avenue Church on Thursday, August 6th from 3:30 to 5:00pm. The Level IV scholars, or students in ninth and tenth grades, will showcase their summer of learning at the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Center at Rainier Beach High School on Thursday, August 6th at 6pm. The finale will celebrate the culmination of the CDF Freedom Schools model, a transformative reading-intensive curriculum for children, referred to as “scholars”, ages 5 through 15 in the Rainier Valley.


“Freedom Schools is bringing an emphasis on education that cultivates each scholar’s unique voice and quite literally allows them to interact with their own history. Freedom Schools also gives schools in Rainier Valley a chance to prove that they do have students who matter, who have important things to say and who should have access to a high-quality education, ” said Katelyn Durst, first year servant leader intern at Rainier Beach High School.


Through carefully chosen historical and multi-cultural books, scholars explore and discuss issues like racism, history, segregation, hope, and the power of education. Throughout the Freedom Schools program, scholars connect with “I can make a difference” themes that inspire children to think, to act, and ultimately to build confidence. Each week scholars are given a new lens to look at themselves, where they are seen as the experts. The program will engage in a Day of Social Action on Friday, July 31st, where children will learn about advocacy and using they own voice to make change at the policy level. This will include a high school student-led walk for funding of public transportation to and from Seattle Public Schools and an opportunity to raise awareness of the Freedom Schools education model at Seattle City Hall.


In 1995, CDF built upon the vision and philosophy of Mississippi Freedom Summer Project 1964 and led a rebirth of Freedom Schools through the Children’s Defense Fund Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC). Urban Impact hopes to engage families in the CDF Freedom Schools program and the greater Rainier Valley community to work toward solutions to problems facing this community this summer and beyond.


“The civil rights movement is something that we are still fighting for and education is the avenue that Freedom Schools chose to advance this movement,” said Shelby Jones, first year Servant Leader Intern at Rainier Avenue Church.


About the Childrens Defense Fund Freedom Schools

The CDF Freedom Schools program provides summer and after-school enrichment through a model curriculum that supports children and families around five essential components: high quality academic enrichment, parent and family involvement, social action and civic engagement, intergenerational servant leadership development, and nutrition, health and mental health. In partnership with faith institutions, schools, colleges and universities, and community based organizations, the CDF Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities. Visit Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools online at



Read Lead is an educational initiative that empowers youth and young adults in Los Angeles County, by providing literacy-based summer and after school programs and a leadership institute focusing on global, civic, and social entrepreneurial leadership. Founded in 2011, Read Lead is led by Cassandra Chase and Joy Masha, who are both young professionals and educators who have an innovative approach that leverages community resources and expertise to support the educational landscape and forge strategic partnerships to assist families, school districts, schools, and community agencies. Through valued partnerships, Read Lead is able to empower communities by providing opportunities in literacy and leadership programs.


About Urban Impact

Urban Impact’s mission is to partner with families and communities to break the cycle of social, material, and spiritual poverty. Serving nearly 2,000 youth and adults annually, Urban Impact has been a consistent presence in Seattle’s Rainier Valley since 1987. Focused on strengthening families and raising leaders, Urban Impact partnered with people in the neighborhood to address issues surrounding education, youth development, family, health, economic stability and racial reconciliation. Generational poverty has social, material and spiritual implications. Breaking it requires a holistic approach that addresses both the personal and systemic challenges of poverty. Visit Urban Impact online at


About Rainier Avenue Church

For 25 years, Urban Impact has partnered with Rainier Avenue Church, a Free Methodist church, whose members, Board, pastors and lay leaders organized to bring CDF Freedom Schools to the Rainier Valley. Rainier Avenue Church encourages everyone in the Rainier Valley and beyond to find wholeness in Jesus Christ by building authentic community and working together for compassion and justice.


About Rainier Beach High School

Rainier Beach High School empowers their students to become lifelong learners through the support of family, staff and community, and to excel academically and creatively in a multicultural world. Rainier Beach High School empowers their students. RBHS has strong mentioning programs and an International Baccalaureate program that offers students and families to participate in the IB diploma.





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Published on by Urban Impact.

A Creating Community

<<Sketch of Rainier Maker's Trailer Model courtisy of Andy Wong

<<Sketch of Rainier Maker's Trailer Model courtisy of Andy Wong

MAKER MOVEMENT \’mā-kƏr\ \’müv-mƏnt\


1. a cultural trend in which people place value on an individual’s ability to be a creator of things as well as a consumer of things

2. a subculture of creating, recreating or assembling any raw material or product


A hip-hop group that engages and employs youth in the community. A line of clothing that employs marginalized women in the Rainier Valley. A community-connecting creativity trailer that provides access to creative tools like drill presses and sewing machines. 

These were some innovative social business plans entered in Seattle Pacific University’s(SPU) Social Venture Competition and then in Urban Impact’s tandem contest “Sharks at the Beach,” imitating the popular reality show “Shark Tank” with “Beach” referring to Rainier Beach and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

In Rainier Valley, where there are many highly entrepreneurially minded individuals, there are few places where families can create together, playing with circuits, woodworking or making LED textile products. As makers themselves, Helen Shor-Wong and Andy Wong presented their vision of a community creating together to a panel of community judges. As they built circuit boards and toys with their own daughter, they saw their business, Rainier Makers, as a unique way to “cultivate the Rainier Valley’s imaginative creativity and amplify their unique stories through a venue that fosters community connectedness, provides maker-centered learning through hands-on making classes, workshops and events, and incubate the entrepreneurial spirit to innovate and grow small businesses”. As a mobile trailer brings community together no matter where the location, Rainier Makers allows for “a safe place to try and fail again” as well as a fun and productive way for community to engage and connect. 

Helen and Andy saw this competition as a valuable way to join this economic development component of Urban Impact. “Through this opportunity we are able to create as a community, just how God intended for things to be.” They will continue to collaborate with schools, libraries and organizations to bring Rainier Makers into existence, building upon people’s potential to innovate. 

Helen Shor-Wong & Andy Wong present their business plan to a panel of community judges >>

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Published on by Marissa Ukosakul.

We March for Peace

“Something inside so strong

I know that I can make it

Though you're doin’ me wrong, so wrong”*

The words resounded across Emerald City Bible Fellowship’s parking lot as elementary-aged children led a crowd of over 200 in songs and chants beneath rainy Seattle skies. The children had learned the chants the previous summer when they participated in Urban Impact’s CDF Freedom School®. Now on this weekend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday, they came out with their parents to pray for their neighborhood. It was clear that this prayer march was a manifestation of Dr. King’s vision for peaceful yet pointed responses to injustice. 

What inspired this intergenerational, multi-ethnic prayer march representing members from over a dozen Seattle churches? The robbing and physical beating of well-loved owners of local business, King Donuts, along with other acts of violence that have broken the community in South Seattle in January. This drove a group of millennial leaders from Urban Impact’s staff and community to respond creatively by organizing a prayer march. 

As Pastor Peter of Rainier Avenue Church expressed to the congregation the Sunday before the march, “We want to communicate to this community that as Christians we are peacemakers. Not just with signs but with prayer.”

Rain continued to fall as strollers and wheelchairs proceeded down Rainier Avenue. Young and old carried signs calling for peace, proclaimed prayers of lament and sang songs of hope with a vision that “each child of the Rainier Valley can walk down the street with confidence in their value, their safety and their full potential.” 

When the group arrived at King Donuts they bought donuts… and joyfully left a $1,200 tip in the tip jar. The owner’s family was touched. 

“We’ve been in the neighborhood for almost 30 years and have never seen support of this type, ever,” said the owner’s daughter Davie Hay. “It brought joy to see everyone show up at our shop in the pouring rain. Definitely something that I will never forget and be forever grateful for the generosity of the community.” 

“My light will shine so brightly, it will blind you ‘cause there’s

Something inside so strong”

* Words by Labi Siffre from “Something Inside So Strong” 


Watch a video recap on the Prayer March

See more pictures on the Prayer March on Facebook

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Published on by Marissa Ukosakul.

From the Neighborhood: TK Threads

In the Urban Art Center behind the Urban Impact building are the creations of a locally sustained clothing line. Jessica Watson, who lives in the neighborhood and attends Emerald City Bible Fellowship had a vision of a world in which every at-risk individual reaches their full potential through meaningful vocation and an earned living wage.  Runner-up and People’s Choice Award Winner of SPU’s Social Venture Competiton, TK Threads is a social business that will ‘manifacture apparel for retailers through home-based and small-scale manufacturing.” TK Threads will partner with social service agencies to housing resources, counseling services and job training to hire underemployed people, focusing specifically on immigrants and refugees and formally prostituted women in the Rainier Valley and beyond.

Learn more about TK Threads on their website

&lt;&lt;   Jessica Watson begins her social business with TK Threads

<< Jessica Watson begins her social business with TK Threads

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Published on by Marissa Ukosakul.

From Defeated to Deadlifts


Debby first connected to Rainier Health & Fitness (RHF) through the 2013 Healthiest Loser challenge. Back then, Debby remembers, “I could not even do 10 minutes on the elliptical and I cried when I did it.” 

After the challenge, Debby continued to exercise on the elliptical and attend cycling classes at the gym, but she felt like she had plateaued. 

“I thought I was doing everything right, coming and do the elliptical and treadmill and stuff like that, but it wasn’t engaging. And sometimes I need somebody to spit fire on me.”

The fire ignited was when RHF trainer, David, suggested that Debby try CrossFit. 

“I want to but I can’t afford it,” Debby replied. David stripped away that excuse and offered her an RHF scholarship. 

Debby’s first few days were pretty rough. 

“When I first started CrossFit I thought, ‘I am going to die!’” However, she stuck with the program and nearly a year later reported: 

“I can jump rope and I can skip again. I can run faster…And now deadlifting 75kg… I didn’t even know what a deadlift was nor did I know how to use a bar. I thought that was for professionals. It is close to 180 pounds.” 

In addition to improving her physical abilities, Debby found support from her CrossFit community. “They are very encouraging, especially as I am middle-aged. I am overweight. I don’t have a lot of confidence but they seem to think that I can do it. That is what makes me know that I can do it.” 

Debby’s trainer also motivates her. “If David says ‘I know you can do it,’ I know I can do it. He is not going to make me fail. So when I look at him cross-eyed I’m like ‘What?’ And he looks at me, ‘Yes, Debby, you can do it.’”

Debby invites her friends too, telling them, “It is like a family, a community. Whenever someone says they need to join a gym, I say, ‘Go to Rainier Health & Fitness.’…I explain to them that it is the best thing you’ll ever do.”

Follow Debbie on her Facebook Blog.

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Published on by Emily Williamson.

Urban Impact New Logo

Urban Impact New Logo

We are excited to unveiling our new logo. During this important time of expansion we wanted to give Urban Impact a whole new look.  We believe our new logo expresses our core values of Reconciliation, Neighborhood Presence, and the Church community.  We are excited about this new work before us, and seeing how God will expand this important mission throughout our region.  

Thank you for being part of this movement and partnering with us in this journey to break cycles and build hope in our neighborhoods.


Click here for Urban Impact's Branding Guide

Please contact, for additional versions of the logo.

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Published on by Urban Impact.

Wildwood Makeover

Wildwood Makeover

By the end of the day, weeds had been pulled, needles, condoms and syringes had been thrown away, graffiti painted over, a trash can installed and flowers had been planted outside a nearby business. The community’s efforts not restored what had become an eyesore into an inviting bus stop, but also rebuilt a sense of unity and dignity as well.

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Published on by Urban Impact.

Those Three Words…

Those Three Words…

We hear these three words in many different contexts, between many different people and in many different languages. At times, this expression can seem overused. Yet one place it is not often spoken or heard is in the juvenile detention center. 

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Published on by Urban Impact.