Turning passion for people into opportunities
By Katelin Gladney, Customer Service Intern
Take a walk around King County and you’ll see how residents’ experiences can vary wildly. Some are doing well and benefitting from the strong, tech-fueled economy. But far too many are struggling to even keep a roof over their heads. Finding ways to help those struggling is the mission of King County employee Andréa Akita, Director of Communities of Opportunity (COO).
King County partnered with the Seattle Foundation a local philanthropic organization, to create the initiative aimed at providing equity and social justice to all communities through funding, resources, and strategic partnerships with related organizations.
Akita studied urban and regional planning, and public administration in college, so she feels her work in King County has been a good fit, and sees the COO initiative as a movement: “Not all the people of King County are receiving equal benefits,” she explained. “People’s health, wealth, and access to opportunities are also being determined by where they live or the color of their skin. Policies or institutional racism prevent certain communities from being on the same level as other more stable communities and we want to be a county that’s working for everyone.”
As COO Director, she works with staff to help create conditions for community partners to identify solutions, and put them into action. “My responsibility is to create a team that is going to be able to listen carefully to community, to make sure they are committed to the COO work, and to make sure we aren’t imposing our values and ideas,” she said.
According to Akita, COO helps communities that are experiencing low unemployment, poor health services, poor housing conditions, and other barriers to stability submit a proposal for assistance. If it’s accepted, staff then helps those communities create a partnership with government and philanthropy partners, and decide how best to work together to change conditions.
King County aims to put money in parts of the county that have been under-resourced, and those that have been unable to access proper care and benefits because of inequitable policies in the past.
Akita started working with King County in December of 2016. Her personal and professional interests have always been about how to create the right kind of community for people to thrive in. “I grew up in Los Angeles at a time when homelessness was growing and most peoples’ response was to avert their eyes and pretend the problem didn’t exist,” she said. Even then, she knew there had to be a way to take action to improve living conditions for those experiencing homelessness.
That desire for everyone to be treated equally led her to get involved in homeless services and community development on L.A’s infamous Skid Row with an organization that was building housing, providing services, creating open space, and working directly with communities and people in need.
The COO initiative now gives Akita a way to transform her passion for helping others into tangible actions that create community-led opportunities and change. “My greatest accomplishment working with COO is being able to work with a great team that is accountable to their neighbors and community,” she said. “We are committed to changing what’s happening now to create a future where more people benefit from the many opportunities in this great county.”
Editor’s note: Communities of Opportunity has just launched a new website and “the SCOOP” newsletter! Check out https://www.coopartnerships.org/ and sign up for the newsletter while you are there!