The staff at Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC) know what it feels like to face challenging times, which is why the organization came together more than 40 years ago to care for families coping with adversity.
Originally named the International District Child Care Center, DLEC was founded in the wake of a devastating fire that destroyed a residential building and displaced several families in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, which has long been the epicenter of Seattle’s Asian-American community. Community activists Denise Louie and Bob Santos partnered to build a daycare center that served immigrant families. The organization quickly grew and expanded its services to meet the evolving needs of diverse communities in central Seattle.
Today, DLEC provides multicultural early learning to children and their families and overall school and life readiness. Many of the families that DLEC serves are immigrants or refugees, or families whose primary language is not English. Families enrolled in the home visiting and education center programs speak more than 22 different languages. It is critical to DLEC’s legacy and mission that these services be delivered with respect for everyone’s cultural heritage, individuality and home language. “We strive to be a consistent, compassionate presence in our families’ lives,” says Nina Luu, DLEC’s family services supervisor.
DLEC’s programming includes home visits to provide prenatal support for pregnant women, newborn and child development guidance for parents, in-person preschool curriculum and kindergarten readiness and referrals to other social services.
DLEC is no stranger to hardship, but the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new set of challenges in 2020, when 99 families who rely on home visits from DLEC staff members were left wondering if that service would continue. DLEC staff quickly pivoted and loaned out equipment so that home visits could be conducted virtually. They offered iPads with SIM cards and translated important COVID-19-related information into different languages to ensure families were informed about the pandemic.
Luu says COVID-19 also made it more difficult for many families to meet their basic needs. To help where they could, DLEC safely delivered care packages full of fresh produce and items like formula, diapers, wipes and other hygienic products. “The pandemic caused a lot of our parents to have their hours cut. Some lost their jobs entirely, making it even harder to afford these basic essentials,” says Luu.
Community partners such as Swedish Health Services have made overcoming those hardships a lot easier. Prior to 2020, Swedish’s support included sponsoring DLEC’s annual fundraising event, but in 2020 the organization shifted its support to invest in measurable projects and initiatives that align with its mission. Swedish donated personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, face shields and hand sanitizer to include in care packages to 331 families and helped purchase enough school supplies for 120 children enrolled in DLEC’s remote education.
Swedish also invested in counseling services for DLEC families and staff, and a program that gave families access to organic produce from local farmers markets. This shift from sponsorship to investment, says Luu, helped create a more robust network of support encompassing partner organizations, local government agencies and DLEC alumni. “We are fortunate to be surrounded by a community that gives back,” says Luu. “Our job is to empower families and equip parents with information they need to be advocates for their children. Our amazing community partners like Swedish help make this possible.”