Immigrant Family Institute

The Immigrant Family Institute (IFI) is an 8-week program that brings together immigrant youth, their parents/guardians, and Seattle police officers to learn from each other. We are currently recruiting immigrant families that have been impacted by the juvenile justice system for the 2019 program that will take place in the spring.

You can post these recruitment flyers in public locations:

English | Somali | Spanish



IFI builds off the award-winning success of the 2014 Refugee Women's Institute. IFI aims to provide leadership skills to immigrant boys and girls aged 10-14 who have been or are likely to be impacted by the juvenile justice system. The program also seeks to empower their parents to self-advocate and navigate city, legal, and education systems. IFI also helps Seattle Police Department officers be more culturally responsive in serving immigrant youth of color and their families.


Program Structure

Participants meet each week on Saturdays from 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM. Facilitators/educators will lead each session. Each week will feature a topic to achieve the stated outcomes above. The teaching approach honors the knowledge that participants bring to the program and provides participants with many opportunities for group learning and self-learning.

The program will include resources to ensure full participation, including:

  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Orca transit passes
  • On-site child care for children 3 to 9 years old (other accommodations can be made for children younger than 3)
  • Limited case management support
  • Interpretation services



The program will be able to accommodate 15-18 immigrant families with youth (as described above) and their parents/guardians and 15-20 Seattle Police Department officers.

Recruitment for the 2019 IFI cohort is now open. For more information, please contact Maria Abdullahi at or (206) 615-1026.


Advisory Committee

The IFI Advisory Committee is a group of immigrant youth of color, immigrant/refugee parents, and other key stakeholders from community-based organizations, King County, City of Seattle, service providers, and academia. The Advisory Committee helps shape key aspects of the program, including the curriculum, recruitment, and outreach.

For more information about the IFI Advisory Committee meetings, please contact Maria Abdullahi at or (206) 615-1026.



The Immigrant Family Institute Core Team includes:

  • Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Director Cuc Vu
  • Seattle Police Department Deputy Chief Carmen Best
  • Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Community Relations Specialist Hassan Wardere
  • Assistant Professor of Social Work at Seattle University Amelia Derr
  • Director of Intercultural Affairs at The Bush School Jabali Stewart

Download a flyer about the Immigrant Family Institute program. (Right-clink, then select, "Save link as..." and save to your computer.)

For more information about IFI, please contact Maria Abdullahi at or (206) 615-1026.

Youth hanging out in council chambers

Refugee Women's Institute

On September 6, 2014, the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) launched the Refugee Women’s Institute (RWI), an innovative pilot program designed to build understanding and trust between refugee communities in Seattle and the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The institute, the first of its kind in the nation, aimed to build a grassroots network of refugee women leaders while increasing the cultural competency of the female officers who participate.

Download an old flyer about the Refugee Woman's Institute. (Right-clink, then select, "Save link as..." and save to your computer.)


How RWI Came About

OIRA developed RWI in direct response to concerns raised by refugee and immigrant families during a series of extensive outreach conversations held in 2012 as part of the Safe Communities campaign. OIRA facilitated 30 "kitchen table" discussions with women from specific refugee and immigrant communities to gain feedback in how the police department could address neighborhood safety concerns.

Refugee and immigrant residents raised such issues as language barriers and the need for interpretation and translation of resources. They also talked about the lack of information about valuable services, including 911 emergency calls. Rising to the top was a desire to build mutual trust and understanding. Refugee women were chosen as the program’s first cohort for leadership development since they are one of the most vulnerable populations in Seattle's refugee communities.


How RWI Worked

OIRA Policy, Programs, and Strategy Lead Sahar Fathi developed the program with support from members of the Seattle Immigrant and Refugee Commission, experts on curriculum development and trauma, plus refugee women themselves, some of whom are participating in the inaugural sessions. The Seattle Police Foundation provided additional program support.

On each Saturday of the 8-week program, 20 refugee women participants were paired up with mentors from SPD and participated in carefully-designed discussions to help the women overcome the fear and mistrust that often act as a barrier to community participation. The curriculum was intended to help participants confront complicated and sensitive issues in a safe environment, as many refugee women experience a lack of resources and fear of past oppressive governments.

The program also included information on how to access city subsidies, like low-income utility assistance, as well as unique opportunities, such as a tour of a 911 emergency call center.

An RWI Group photo.

In order to make RWI as accessible as possible, the program provided child care, bus tickets, meals, and a small scholarship. The program also provided interpreters to ensure complete understanding of difficult subject matter. Participants in the inaugural program originally came from six countries: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burma, and Bhutan.

"The Refugee Women’s Institute helped reduce barriers to inclusion for refugee women who, after having overcome so many challenges in their lives, took another proactive step toward contributing fully and becoming leaders in our communities," said OIRA Director Cuc Vu. "Understanding takes work, and trust must be earned. We applaud the bravery and leadership showed by the refugee participants and police officers who were willing to build bridges that have reaped benefits for all of us."


Sharing and Evaluating RWI

SPD Sergeant Adrian Diaz poses with IFI graduate youth.Police officers were encouraged to develop a presentation for their SPD colleagues on what they learned and how it could be applied in their day-to-day work while each refugee woman participant made a presentation in her community.

The program’s success was measured by a demonstrated increase in self-confidence and knowledge of city systems and processes, and increased trust in the police department. Each participant was extensively interviewed by the instructor, monitored for participation and engagement, and then evaluated six months and one year after the program ends.


RWI Results

RWI was successful in reaching its goals. SPD employees and refugees reported knowing more refugees, knowing more about refugees, and understanding the available resources for working together in the future. The data indicated that refugee participants finished RWI feeling more comfortable calling 911, calling the police, and accessing a bevy of City services. The data confirm that most of the improvements were stable over time following the conclusion of RWI. The RWI team got a clearer data profile of the needs and desires of refugee participants and gained a better grasp of the misunderstandings that can lead to communication failures between refugees and officers.

RWI has now become the Immigrant Family Institute. OIRA has heard from other cities about interest in RWI and plans to share what we’ve learned with representatives from those and other cities in hopes of replicating the program elsewhere.


RWI Training Video

During RWI, refugee and immigrant residents talked about the lack of information about valuable services, including 911 emergency calls. This video offers information about several topics around public safety, including when and how to call 911, domestic violence issues, identifying and reporting wage theft, and knowing your rights.

For more information about the Refugee Women’s Institute, contact Joaquin Uy at or (206) 684-0155.

For more information about the Immigrant Family Institute, contact Maria Abdullahi at or (206) 615-1026.