Creating community at Somerset
This July, we want to focus on creating community within our organization. YWCA is a resource hub for women and people facing hunger and homelessness. We operate this hub through the development of networks with partner organizations and community members who generously give time and resources to help advance our mission. This support maintains numerous programs that allow YWCA to continue connecting with the community.
We would like to highlight one of our very own YWCA staff community creators, Cena Conteh at YWCA Somerset Village Apartments. Somerset is a low-income, permanent housing complex for families in Lynnwood. Cena first began working with YWCA in May 2016 as a Homeless Navigator at Pathways for Women. When she first started working with YWCA, Cena was studying to be a paralegal at Edmonds Community College. She graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences and Law and Justice.
“I wanted to pick up a part-time position. I was called in the next day and offered a full-time position. YWCA worked with me and my school schedule so I could do both.” – Cena Conteh
Cena is now working hard as the Community Center Coordinator, managing programming for the residents at Somerset. We appreciate Cena for being a longtime advocate of the community and making YWCA a more welcoming place. Read more about Cena and her work in our chat below!
What has been the most impactful lesson that you have learned from working at YWCA?
The community I’m serving taught me how to serve them. What I mean by that is if a client came up to me and said “I’m homeless or I have a need,” that doesn’t mean they need me to get them a home or just fill their need. We think that the thing that will make people’s lives change is to just give them a home. I’ve learned working in this it’s more than the home. We may find that a home is a freedom but some find that it’s a cage.
Even here in the community, I can’t just say, “Oh, here’s a class. Do it.” It took me a good four months for them to trust me and start coming to The Center. I’m good at connecting with people who are different than me because I’m interested in other people. I learned to be patient with people but continue to reach out so they know my interest is their interest. People will teach you how to help them.
“We can give and give and people will take and take but my goal is to be more effective in what I do. That means I seek what it is they need to be more productive and empowered.” – Cena Conteh
How does a Community Coordinator create community?
Taking the time to be a part of the community. I take time to walk the grounds. For a long time I stopped because I was told my position is in the office, so I stopped. However, the parents here asked me to come back and make a presence because it makes a difference. Now the residents come in because they trust me. I’m here to help empower my community. That’s how they become my community.
What programs at Somerset help empower the community?
English Second Language
This was my first priority because parents would come with their kids to translate, which puts a strain on the kids from being kids. I want to help clients learn English so they could come and ask for what they need.
Budgeting and Personal Finance
We had a volunteer who works at a local bank come in and teach basic banking. He didn’t even speak their language and he was able to teach them about credit and debit cards and statements. The bank paid to have a graduation ceremony for the clients after six weeks of the class. I was so proud when I had one lady come back, bring her statement, and she knew what she was looking at. The volunteer wants to come back to teach about buying a home.
Karate for Kids
The impact I’ve seen is when the kids ﬁrst started, a lot of them only wanted to learn how to fight. The instructor taught them to sit still and discipline, and now there are nine kids left getting tested for yellow belts. They are shy, introverted, dedicated, and learning confidence and how to protect themselves.
Campfire is club activities to teach about nature and how to create stuff out of household items. They teach the kids that even though they are all different, there are more things that make them the same. The program also certiﬁes the kids to become babysitters.
She Matters puts on two events that bring women together to let them know how unique and special they are and though they may not have everything they need, they still have worth and matter.
Why is it important to offer these of programs?
They empower people to move forward. No one was teaching the women how to function in a society totally new to them. We encourage them to keep climbing in life.
What is the best part about being a Community Coordinator?
- That I get to empower a community
- l have an opportunity to bring in options to people
- Being able to connect with people and feel appreciated and respected
- I look forward to coming here every morning
Is there an achievement that you are most proud of while you have been with YWCA?
Even though the teenagers seem like they don’t want to listen, I do see them when they get to a point where they don’t want to see their moms or talk to their friends. They will come to me and they want to hear me.
What is something people should know or may not know about you?
I am an open book. I have learned to walk and stand in a position unapologetically being me!
What are your goals/aspirations for Somerset?
- Equip people with the knowledge and skills to advance their families.
- Be effective in the programming that I bring. I want to bring something they want plus whatever else we can give.
- See my kids rise from being shy, being bullied, being a bully, and become people who want to help others.
If someone walked into Somerset today and wanted to help, what could they do?
Someone could help facilitate classes like computer training, help with tweens, or loves and knows how to work with kids and wants to see them grow.
“The work is exhausting and yet you want to give your best and there is more to do. It will end how it ends but it is important to give them what they need. These people are here for good and we have to teach them what it takes to survive.” – Cena Conteh
Cena manages Somerset’s programming with a smile on her face and drive in her heart. Family and youth programs are a big part of YWCA services. We need more people like Cena working to build strong and healthy communities. Find out how you can be a part of the mission to empower women and build a better community at www.ywcaworks.org/volunteer.
Kendyl Hardy is the Volunteer Services Coordinator at YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish. As an avid volunteer herself, Kendyl finds volunteering is a way to grow personally and as a community. Kendyl graduated with a degree in Public Relations with a concentration in nonprofit management. Throughout her college career, she worked to highlight the importance of civic service to sustain society and feature dialogue about issues affecting our communities.
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