Friday, July 28, 2006

International Examiner

This article appeared in the July 19 issue of the International Examiner.

CISC moves on up to new site
Category/Issue: News, Volume 33 No. 14

Examiner Contributor

Jin-Tao Xiong, a Chinese immigrant who came from Guandong province 21 years ago, is a regular visitor at the Sunshine Garden Senior Day Care Center, coming every day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

After Xiong’s husband passed away, the center has become an essential part of her life. Now, not only is she a client of the center, participating in activities like Tai Chi, singing, and knitting, but she is also a volunteer, teaching other seniors Cantonese and Mandarin.

The Sunshine Garden Senior Day Care Center is operated under the Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC), which is currently located in the Bush Hotel of the International District. With its original mission to bridge cultures, communities and generations for Chinese immigrants and their families to succeed, CISC has grown since 1972 to provide services to the Vietnamese as well as other Asian communities.

Looking at Xiong and Dai-Fan Tao, a fellow client at the center, one can hardly tell that Xiong is 84 years old and Tao is 90. They both look active, happy and healthy. And they live independently by themselves in apartments in the ID.

“I feel so happy coming here every day. There are classes and activities for me to join all the time,” Xiong expressed in Mandarin. “And right now my friends [at the center] are waiting for me to have dim-sum together.”

Now that the local Asian American community has become more spread out, CISC has been working hard to reach their clientele. CISC offers programs and activities at various sites, including Seattle, Redmond, Bothell and Bellevue.

While CISC envisions its International Family Center, currently located in the ID, to operate as a hub, it has found its Seattle-based resources confusing for some clients, as services are provided at three different locations within the ID. For example, as ESL Literacy Program Coordinator Tsai-En Cheng pointed out, her students attend class at the International Family Center, which is in the Pacific Rim building on South Jackson Street. But if they need her, the students must go to the Bush Hotel to meet her.

For some, the distance between the Bush Hotel and the Pacific Rim building is a pleasant walk; for others, given that some of the ESL students at CISC are seniors or parents with infants, the distance is not so convenient.

In order to centralize its resources, CISC has started the Moving On Up Campaign, which raises money for the organization to move to a new location at 611 S. Lane Street this November. The new location will double the current size, providing space for all their ID offices to be housed in one building.

“We want to consolidate all our different sites, and that will save money because we will also save time just going back and forth,” said Alaric Bien, CISC executive director.

CISC’s future home will look brand new, unlike the current main office where the carpet is unclean and the building has no air conditioning. Bien said, “It will be a lot more welcoming, friendly and respectful to our clients, staff and volunteers.”

With limited human resources and funding, CISC strives to offer the most excellent quality services possible. Its primary programs can be divided into five categories: Advocacy & Training, Crime Victims, Elderly Services, Employment, and Family and Youth. These programs add up to about 50 individual services provided to 5,000 clients a year by only 35 staff members.

With these impressive statistics, CISC also tailors its services to meet different client needs. As Bien recalled, they once got a request from a Chinese lady who needed someone who could speak Shanghainese, and help her cook Shanghainese-style cuisine three times a week. Luckily, CISC found someone who fit the criteria.

CISC has specific cultural and linguistic capacities to serve its clients from diverse backgrounds. Bien said, “It’s not something you can normally get if you go through a mainstream agency.”

For Cheng, who has worked for CISC as an ESL teacher for almost four months, the impact that CISC has on her students is pretty significant. Cheng said some of her students have acquired enough English skills to give them confidence to shop at American stores. They no longer have to travel all the way to the ID for groceries. Now, they are always excited to see Cheng, for they appreciate her teaching that has made a difference in their lives.

Cheng’s teaching experience has been so rewarding that she turned down a job offer to teach ESL classes at a community college — an opportunity not often offered to a non-native English speaker.

It is the colleagues like Cheng that keeps Bien enthusiastic about his job. Bien says that all the people working at CISC are very dedicated to their clients despite the underpaid salaries. To Bien, CISC is like a family, where everyone pulls together and works extremely hard.

“People are here because they want to be here,” said Bien. “We are not doing this for money.”

The Moving On Up Campaign presents its final 10 percent fundraiser on Sunday, July 30 at 6 p.m. New Kowloon Restaurant. Tickets are $25. (206) 624-5633 x117,

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