Emma Violand-Sánchez honored

Emma Violand-Sánchez, right, is shown in a file photo with Walter Tejada.

The Shirlington Employment and Education Center (SEEC) is gearing up for a two-digit move – from 22206 to 22204.

Facing the need to decamp from its office space (and facility for day laborers to congregate) in its namesake Shirlington, SEEC has worked with the Arlington County government to obtain space in Arlington Mill along the Columbia Pike corridor.

“We’re going home, in a real sense,” said executive director Andres Tobar, who noted that 40 percent of those served by SEEC live in the 22204 (Columbia Pike) ZIP code, compared to only about 10 percent in 22206 (Shirlington).

“Everyone wants to make sure it works,” Tobar said of the move, expected to take place over the winter. “We are going to be partners [in the new community].”

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 friction with nearby, 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.

“I’m very excited to continue the work,” said Nora Lopez, the organization’s new board chair. “Arlington is the best place if you want to do something great for people.”

SEEC on Oct. 23 held its annual awards program, honoring Emma Violand-Sánchez and Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. The event brought out a number of community leaders, including County Board member Matt de Ferranti and School Board Chairman Tannia Talento.

A veteran educator, Violand-Sánchez served two terms on the Arlington School Board and is the founder of the DREAM Project, which works to provide education and civic-engagement support to Latino youth.

“She’s very much a role model for me – she’s all about bringing people together and empowering them,” said Francesco Yepez-Coello, who benefited from a DREAM Project scholarship and now sits on its board of directors.

(Violand-Sánchez was out of town on Oct. 23, but will be presented with the award at a later date.)

Yepez-Coello said immigrants “really need a lot of allies,” and suggested that in Arlington, progress was being made.

“Little by little, we’re pushing forward,” he said.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington is among a number of faith communities across Arlington that long have supported SEEC. It is “a church that has been extremely giving – they’ve opened their doors,” said Tobar, who leads a staff of four (supplemented by volunteers) at SEEC.

While founded to support male day-laborers, SEEC has expanded its horizons to provide a variety of training opportunities, and in recent years has been proactive in working with immigrant women on an array of initiatives, including entrepreneurship. That effort is expected to ramp up in coming years.

“One of the things we need to do more of is definitely help the immigrant women,” Tobar said. “We’ve got to be much more fair. We’re trying to do a variety of things.”

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