Q and A with Asha Mohamed, Education Specialist for Seattle Housing
Authority at Yesler Terrace
Asha means hope in Hindu and love in
Somali, which says a lot about what Asha
Mohamed brings to her role at Yesler Terrace.
Banter and sass. That's the approach Asha
Mohamed takes to get things done. As an
educational specialist for the Seattle Housing
Authority (SHA) at Yesler Terrace, Mohamed
works closely with the Seattle University Youth
Initiative and other community partners to
help children succeed in school.
Here's what she says about her work with
the community and SU.
When you joined SHA four years ago, you
started to engage low-income refugee and immigrant
families in discussions about their strengths.
What did you discover?
When we asked Yesler Terrace residents what
they did best, they said "clean and babysit."
There were only three child-care providers at the
time. There are 30 now. And one of our residents
launched a janitorial company. Now they not
only make a livable wage but also are contributing
members of society.
Why did you make a conscious decision to meet
with people rather than survey them?
Door knocking is the only way. With surveys,
the children have to serve as interpreters so parents
can't really voice their concerns. We wanted
to know what it would take for a Yesler Terrace
child to be successful academically.
What did you learn?
Yesler Terrace parents not only don't know
their parental rights, they don't know what
higher education looks like. They don't know
who their allies are in their child's education.
Now we meet every Tuesday at 6 p.m., usually
about 30 parents with their families.
Is it true Seattle University President Stephen
Sundborg, S.J., came to one of your meetings?
Yes, Father Steve came and asked a question:
"What do you know about Seattle University's
Youth Initiative?" One of the elders answered
him with this question: "What do you know
about Yesler Terrace?" It was such a great learning
moment for us all. Father Steve listened,
took it all in, processed it and he came back a
second time, too.
How do you partner with Seattle University
and community groups to cultivate that unity?
SU took a leadership role in a volunteer
effort to renovate Neighborhood House–Yesler
Terrace Head Start recently and it catapulted
from there. We all have a small piece as we
work toward the same goal. It's all about doing
and we're doing it.