“The goal of integrating immigrants does not just consist of equipping them with the skills they need, it also involves creating a foundation and network of support that allows them to be successful.” - Liz Dunbar, Executive Director, Tacoma Community House.
Founded a century ago to help 4,000 Italian immigrants and their children settle in the Puget Sound area, Tacoma Community House today works with immigrants and refugees from over 80 countries, helping them learn English, become US citizens, and contribute to the economic, cultural, and civic life of Washington State.
TCH provides adult English instruction, GED preparation, and citizenship classes; multilingual employment training; bilingual assistance in accessing social services such as housing, transportation, and child care; and bilingual support groups for victims of domestic violence - all available at one location. TCH's English programs host field trips to museums, farmers' markets, movie theaters, and other places where immigrants can practice their English in real-world settings and become more familiar with their new communities.
TCH also operates the statewide Literacy NOW program, which has trained more than 35,000 volunteers who have assisted an estimated 115,000 immigrants at local literacy organizations.
In addition to helping refugees and immigrants acquire the skills they need to integrate successfully, TCH has built strong networks with businesses, other organizations, and volunteers, creating a solid foundation of support in the community.
TCH stood up for Italian immigrants 100 years ago when many in the United States thought they were unfit to become Americans. Then as now, Tacoma Community House has demonstrated that a small investment in welcoming services yields big payoffs by helping immigrants to successfully learn English, navigate the job market, and join the mainstream of American life.
TCH's comprehensive approach means that immigrants and refugees can access all of the services they need in one location, whether they need job training to enter the workforce or help in understanding the immigration bureaucracy.
TCH combines the experience gained from its long history with a willingness to adapt and change according to the needs of the region's most recent arrivals. It is this flexibility and responsiveness that makes it a model for others providing multiple services to immigrants and refugees.
Liz Dunbar is Executive Director of Tacoma Community House and has over 30 years of experience in the human services field, including serving as Deputy Secretary for the Oregon Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
She began her career as a counselor working with at-risk youth in Portland, Oregon and also worked as a youth counselor in Puyallup and ran a small nonprofit in Bellingham. For almost four years, she served as Executive Director of the Asian American Alliance in Tacoma.
Ms. Dunbar began her career in state government as Executive Director of the Commission on Asian American Affairs then moved to DSHS as the State Refugee Coordinator and Director of the Refugee Program. She went on to serve in several other positions at DSHS: Regional Director for Pierce and Kitsap counties, Diversity Director, Director of Policy for Public Assistance and Employment programs, Assistant Secretary for Economic Services, and finally as the department's Deputy Secretary. She served in that capacity for 6 1/2 years, overseeing the budget, information systems, administrative services, human resources, and other internal management functions. She retired from that position in December 2006, and in April 2009 became Executive Director of Tacoma Community House, a nonprofit organization that provides education, employment, and social services to immigrants, refugees, and those who lack basic skills.
Ms. Dunbar is very involved in the Tacoma/Pierce County community, chairing the Asian Forum and serving on the boards of Associated Ministries, Japanese American Citizens League, and the LASCO Foundation. She also chairs the New Americans Policy Council, an advisory council to the Governor on immigrant integration.