Top Contributor: Chinese Information and Service Center helps families start new lives

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

CISC, which sponsors programs for schoolchildren, hosted this Lion dance for kids at Hing Hay Park on Nov. 5. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

“Families” and “family” are more than just words at one South Seattle agency.

They are values, ones that include people who come from countries outside the United States.

For the past 41 years, the Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC) has provided integrated services for immigrants in need of help. Its mission statement: “Bridging cultures, communities and generations. Creating opportunities for Chinese immigrants and their families to succeed.”

While its name indicates a mostly Chinese clientele, CISC also serves immigrants from other Asian countries — India, for example — as well as immigrant families who speak Spanish, Russian, and English, among many others. “We’re actually broadening the ethnic groups that we’re serving,” said Dorothy Wang, who became CISC’s executive director four months ago.

On President Barack Obama’s health care law, she said, “We’re going to go ahead and become certified to provide in-person assistance. We choose to help our clients because we know they’re going to be asking us questions.”

Janet Ung, CISC board president, said, “You come to us for help, for advice, for guidance, and we will do the best that we can. The staff [at CISC] will take you wholeheartedly into their family to help out, not only the individual but their entire family.” Guidance includes a recent CISC workshop on avoiding scams, especially those targeting Asian senior citizens.

Photo provided by CISC

In 1972, young immigrants from China and Hong Kong — a mix of college and high-school students — started the agency from cramped donated space in Seattle’s Chinatown. Their goal was to help non-English speaking seniors in the community. Now at CISC, “[these seniors] have a place to come,” Wang said. “They have activities. They have companionship. They go on outings. We serve their whole family.”

Other programs provide help with immigrant transition (English-speaking and naturalization classes, Cultural Navigator program, civil engagement), multigenerational families (Family Caregiver Support program, counseling, early learning), adult and youth employment, technology (basic computer training), and culture (Singing and Dancing Cultural Event last March).

“We see these emerging needs in the community,” Wang said. “We are using the best practices that we know in terms of serving the community.”

As CISC has responded to the immigrant community’s emerging needs, it has grown as an agency. In 1980, it was approved for United Way funding. In 1997, it served more than 3,500 clients a year with a staff of 25 full-time professionals and over 100 volunteers.

Today, CISC has become one of the most effective providers of referral and other services to 20,000 people, with a staff of more than 50 professionals — 30 of whom work full-time. When she began as CISC’s new executive director last July, Wang says she was impressed with how professional they were and how they approached their work. The agency now has 400 dedicated volunteers and continues to seek even more.

Redmond city council members are also impressed with the agency. Last May, they publicly recognized CISC as one of the top providers of “linguistically and culturally appropriate social services to the Chinese community in Redmond.”

Despite past funding shortages, CISC has survived and now serves clients living in other locations throughout King County — Factoria, Issaquah, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Lake City. “That’s a lot of area,” Wang said. “And, we’re not a big agency.” CISC helped create and deliver a survey for its community partner, the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue, discovering there was positive support among the city’s Chinese-speaking adults for a new book discussion group, which later held its first meeting in September 2010.

CISC will move forward on specific opportunities that have the strongest potential for success, said Wang. “If there are needs out there that nobody is currently addressing and we can, then we want to do that,” she said about potential opportunities in Kent and south King County.

“We’re not just a social services agency helping people get grants,” said Stephen Lam, who has worked at CISC for the last 22 years and is the program director of services for the elderly. “This is an agency that empowers the potential of all these people. There’s trust always between us.”

“The community trusts us to be the one to deliver the care they need,” Wang said. (end)

For more information about the Chinese Information and Service Center, go to www.cisc-seattle.org.

CISC will be honored at the Top Contributors award dinner on Dec. 6 at the House of Hong Restaurant in Seattle, from 6–9 p.m.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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