SEEC 16th anniversary

Shirlington Employment and Education Center (SEEC) board chair Leni Gonzalez is flanked by 2016 Emily DiCicco Humanitarian Award recipients Charles Meng of the Arlington Food Assistance Center and Bill Murphy (representing a coalition of local churches). In the rear are Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th), Walter Tejada and Andres Tobar.

When Arlington Church of the Covenant parishioner Bill Murphy began volunteering in support of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, he admits to a little nervousness about how the interaction might transpire.

His mind soon was put at ease.

“I saw these young guys, strangers in a foreign land, and said ‘yes, I can help,’” Murphy said at a Sept. 29 celebration of the 16th anniversary of the social-service organization known by the acronym SEEC.

At the event, a trio of churches – Church of the Covenant, Arlington First Church of the Nazarine and the Thai Church of Washington, D.C. – were presented with the organization’s Emily DiCicco Humanitarian Award for their collaborative, supportive efforts.

“They really follow the path of Miss Emily,” said SEEC board chairman Leni Gonzalez, praising the three churches, and other religious organization, that provide funding and other support to SEEC and its clients.

Also honored with the award named in honor of the late DiCicco was Charles Meng, executive director of the Arlington Food Assistance Center, or AFAC.

Meng’s non-profit has provided food support to hundreds of families referred by SEEC each year. Proof of legal status “is not important” in determining eligibility, Meng said.

“Our belief is, if you’re hungry in Arlington County, we are here to help,” he said. “Someone helped my family, someone helped all our families.”

SEEC traces its roots to a looming potential crisis that reared up in the late 1990s. Day workers, mostly Latino, were congregating in the Four Mile Run area, causing tensions with the nearby and predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

The county government and Latino leaders worked to form SEEC, which provides a place for laborers to connect with jobs, as well as offering a host of educational and employment programs.

“It was a gigantic effort on the part of a whole lot of people,” said former Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada, one of the founders. “In some communities, they would not even think about doing something like this, it would be so divisive. I’m delighted to see the support from all parts of our community.”

To celebrate the organization’s recent 15-year anniversary, even the General Assembly sent along its kudos in the form of a joint resolution patroned by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) and presented at the Sept. 29 ceremony.

Lopez said SEEC has been able to “help empower a community that wasn’t being heard.”

The economic downturn of the mid-2000s continues to impact the lives of day-laborers, with the colder periods of the year, not surprisingly, being the hardest.

“During the winter months, one job may be the only thing they see all month. It’s a real struggle,” said Andres Tobar, one of the SEEC founders and currently its executive director.

Funds raised during the Sept. 29 event will go to support programs that include an ongoing initiative teaching “green” techniques to women who clean homes and businesses, as well as next spring’s third Latina business-development program.

Funds also will go to provide resources to workers who have found themselves unpaid or underpaid.

“Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call with a strong voice” to help the workers get what they are due, Gonzalez said.