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Innovative WA Project Seeking to Make Neighborhood-Level Impact

The Zone Project is helping to provide summer programs for children, including free swimming lessons. (Jene Ray/Northeast Community Center)
The Zone Project is helping to provide summer programs for children, including free swimming lessons. (Jene Ray/Northeast Community Center)
December 19, 2019

SPOKANE, Wash. -- An innovative initiative is seeking to lift up an entire neighborhood - and could become a model for other Washington state communities.

The Zone Project wants to close the opportunity gap in northeast Spokane, an underserved and low-income area of the city where more than four in five children receive free or reduced price lunches.

The project is bringing together the community and organizations on after-school and summer learning programs, parenting classes and more.

Amber Waldref, The Zone Project's director, says the holistic approach, including her group's partnership with schools, is providing different expanded learning opportunities from other places.

"There's a history in Washington of investing in expanded learning," she states. "I think what makes ours unique is that we are trying to move the needle on whole-family goals and whole family outcomes and neighborhood level changes."

Waldref says The Zone Project is facilitating opportunities with the Girl Scouts and targeted programs that provide mentors for students of color.

It also is working with Refugee Connections, which worked with refugee families at that group's housing complex.

The project has received $1.7 million from the Ballmer Group - founded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer - which will help it run for the next three-and-a-half years.

Waldref notes that the quality of the programs also is important and they are receiving quality improvement coaching and training from School's Out Washington.


Lindsey Shaw is the mother of a five- and a six-year-old in northeast Spokane. Her children participated in this year's Summer in the Zone program and she says they will attend it again next year.

She's also taking The Zone Project's leadership classes for adults. Shaw says she appreciates the structure of the class, which takes into consideration her role as a parent.

"There was babysitting offered, and there was also food offered at the same time," she relates. "So, they kind of give you very little reason to not attend. You don't really have excuses to not be there, which I really appreciate."

Shaw says northeast Spokanites have a chance to come together and make a difference in the neighborhoods.

"I think that a lot of us get caught up in just trying to make ends meet, but if maybe we pulled together our assets that, with The Zone Project's help, we could see big difference happen in a short amount of time," she states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA