Seattle University Youth Initiative

The Seattle University Youth Initiative (SUYI) unites the university and our local community. Launched in 2011, SUYI unites the university with the City of Seattle, the Seattle Housing Authority, Seattle Public Schools, dozens of community-based organizations, and hundreds of residents to create a “cradle to career” pathway of support for children and their families living in a two-square mile neighborhood adjacent to campus.

Three Pillars of SUYI

Female Scholar laughing blue hijab male mentor red lanyard

Successful Children and Youth

Through campus and community partnerships, SUYI provides youth and families a pathway of support for youth to succeed in school and pursue their college and career goals. When families are engaged in their child’s school experiences, children often show improved performance in all grade levels regardless of a family’s background or socioeconomic status.

WMS High Five Event 2023

Engaged Campus

SUYI provides the Seattle University community — students, faculty, staff and alumni alike — with opportunities to lead a just and humane world. Through community engaged learning (CEL) opportunities, Seattle U students are introduced to the world around them, working in partnership and walking beside the community who are our neighbors. The process that makes CEL possible is also transformative for Seattle U faculty and staff.

Yesler Tour 2021

Thriving Communities

Seattle University is nestled in the midst of historic and dynamic neighborhoods, each of which has tremendous leaders who make Seattle a wonderful place to live, learn and serve. SUYI's holistic approach includes partnering with community-based organizations and community leaders to support stable and affordable housing, access to health care, safe neighborhoods and living-wage jobs.

SUYI Working Group

A working group comprised of local residents, education connectors, scholars, Seattle University faculty and staff gathered in 2023-24 to examine the current journey of the SUYI cradle to career pathway, generating ideas and goals for the future of SUYI. In support of pathways forward and a revised strategic plan, the working group debuted their recommendations at A Journey With SUYI event in April 2024.

Identify the look, feel and components of an educational pathway of support for Seattle University Youth Initiative (SUYI) scholars and families.

Possible Indicators:

  • Make transition support available (e.g., explore, identify, and share additional supports at different educational stages)
  • Identify point people for families to reach out to who are equipped to support family engagement

Define and describe the purpose of each SUYI partnership.

Possible Indicators:

  • Create a list of partner attributes to include (at least):
    o Partner name
    o Partner location
    o Organization name
    o How the partnership aligns with CCE mission and Youth Initiative goals

Define and measure the meaning of "success" for SUYI scholars and families.

Possible Indicators:

  • Use a survey tool and/or other feedback to measure key growth points related to:
    o Social-emotional development
    o College and career readiness
    o Academic development
    o Other as determined by Youth Initiative team, caregivers and scholars

Plan, implement and share with vested partners (e.g., families and community organizations) how SUYI intends to use feedback and other data.

Possible Indicator:

  • Feedback is made available internally and externally for the Youth Initiative's vested partners

Describe how SUYI is strengthening the connection between campus and the community.

Possible Indicators:

  • Include Youth Initiative Program and Site Managers to intentionally strengthen the connection between campus and community
  • Program and Site Managers work with Senior Directors of the Youth Initiative and Campus and Community Partnerships to establish protocol that enhances the community engaged learning experience for Seattle University students and SUYI programs

Since the inception of the Youth Initiative, Seattle University has pursued a collective impact strategy with dozens of community partners that is leading to positive results:

  • Advocating for early learning
  • Expanding after school and summer learning
  • Supporting classroom learning
  • Mobilizing mentors
  • Fostering family/caretaker engagement
  • Strengthening access to higher education
  • Significant educational progress.  In SUYI’s first year, Bailey Gatzert Elementary had the highest academic growth rate of any school in Seattle.
  • Mentoring success.  Washington Middle School students working with Seattle U Academic Mentors: Increased rate of students passing all courses from 60% to 87.5%.
  • Leveraging funds.  SUYI investments over eight years of $27 million were leveraged into an additional $48 million in new funding for affordable housing, education and health care at Yesler Terrace and the wider neighborhood. 
  • Reimagining our curriculum. SUYI’s success has contributed to the reimagining of the Seattle U curriculum and its connection to Seattle.
  • Retention and graduation of SU students. 94% of students participating in SUYI for two quarters or more retained, compared to 85% overall. 

The Sundborg Center for Community Engagement (CCE) connects campus and community to empower leaders for a just and humane world. The connections CCE fosters are expansive, encompassing thousands of university students, faculty, staff, community partners, local residents, families and youth scholars. Since 2011, CCE's Seattle University Youth Initiative (SUYI) has partnered with the City of Seattle, Seattle Housing Authority, Seattle Public Schools, dozens of community-based organizations and hundreds of residents to create a “cradle to career” pathway of support for youth and their families living in a two-square mile neighborhood adjacent to campus.

CCE aims to build capacity for social change in Seattle, engage scholars, students and faculty to learn and lead for a just and humane world, and to advance the field of community engagement in higher education. Our 2030 Vision and Strategic Plan provides the pathway that will guide our work and support us in accomplishing big goals with and for our community.

The Sundborg Center for Community Engagement (CCE) was named lead partner for the Yesler Legacy Commitment, working in close collaboration with Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and the Seattle Foundation. The longtime partnership and commitment of CCE’s Seattle University Youth Initiative to the children and families of Yesler Terrace and nearby Bailey Gatzert Elementary School made it natural fit for the CCE to lead administration of the effort.

As part of Seattle Housing Authority's redevelopment of Yesler Terrace subsidized housing, the Seattle Foundation partnered with SHA to prioritize youth and education in the community. With our deep history in central Seattle and existing relationship with the Yesler community, CCE was selected through a process as the best connected organization to bring these visions to life at Yesler Terrace. Beginning in 2025, CCE will connect youth and family programs to residents at Yesler Terrace.

Throughout the redevelopment of the former Yesler Terrace near downtown Seattle into a mixed-income community with new and expanded affordable housing and amenities for low-income and other residents of the new Yesler, SHA has maintained a commitment that access to opportunity is embedded in the community.

To ensure that academic success for children, positive youth development, job opportunities and advancement, health and strong social networks continue to be supported for its residents, SHA reached out to two longtime partners who have been engaged in the Yesler community to establish a Yesler Legacy Commitment.

This innovative collaboration between SHA, CCE and the Seattle Foundation will create long-term, sustainable opportunities and life-changing outcomes for current and future SHA residents of Yesler, many of whom live on less than 30 percent of area median income. 
The Legacy Commitment is designed to be community-driven and a powerful way for residents and community partners to collectively influence goals, decision-making and outcomes. There will be wide community engagement with guidance by a committee comprised of four Yesler residents plus one representative each from SHA, CCE and the Seattle Foundation, mirroring strong community-building programs in other SHA communities.