Nonprofit Kandelia supports students from immigrant and refugee families. At the start of the pandemic, the organization quickly shifted from providing extended learning opportunities at the Seattle World School to supporting 200 families with food, rent support and other resources.

During Monday’s discussion, Kristie Wong, a community navigator at Kandelia, explained how the organization collaborated with others to pivot so quickly and what they are hoping to do next.

This is the second edition of Ed Lab Live, short conversations with educators, service providers, young people and others who are navigating the new world of education. Find the schedule for upcoming conversations and registration links below. You can check out recordings of other past events here.

Upcoming conversations:

Monday, May 11 at noon – Page Ahead helps young kids develop and maintain reading skills, partially by giving them books. Susan Dibble talks about ways to support literacy during the pandemic. Please follow this link to register:

Tuesday, May 12, at 11:30 a.m. – Virginia Burton is this year’s Truman Scholar from Washington. In this break from pandemic news, Virginia discusses how her life changed when after a tumultuous life, she went back to university in her 40s, and the strength she gained from that path to push for criminal justice reform. Please follow this link to register:

Wednesday, May 13, at 10 a.m. –  Many cases of child abuse and neglect are identified by teachers, child care workers, and others who regularly spend time with kids outside of their homes. With stay-home orders, that’s become more difficult. Rob Kregenow, MD is the director of the emergency department at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. He talks about identifying abuse and preventing it in the first place. Please follow this link to register:


Friday, May 15, at 11:00 AM – Girls across the nation struggle to get feminine products. Schools being closed can make that even harder. Eighth graders Izzy Masias and Audrey Williams started stocking bathrooms at their middle school in Rochester, WA with tampons, pads, and other products. Now they’re taking their project, No Problem. Period, to people’s houses. Please follow this link to register:

Register here. Email with suggestions of future guests. See past conversations here.


Anne Hillman: Hi, and welcome to Ed Lab Live. This is episode two. Thank you all for joining us. Today I’m here with Kristie Wong who is with Kandelia. My name is Anne Hillman. I’m with Ed Lab. So we’re going to keep this to about 10-15 minutes and hearing about what Kandelia has been up to. There’s an “Ask a Question” section at the bottom of the screen, so you can ask anything you’d like. Thank you for joining me. Tell me first, what exactly is Kandelia?

Kristie Wong: Kandelia is a nonprofit. We actually recently rebranded during COVID. We’re formerly known as the Vietnamese Friendship Association. And we support immigrant and refugee families primarily in Seattle World School, which is part of the Seattle Public Schools. Yeah, and that school is a special school because it serves newcomer immigrant and refugee families and students ages 11 to 20. Very unique school and one of a kind in the country.

Hillman: That’s really cool. So before the pandemic, what did this support look like? What sorts of things were you doing? What did your day look like?

Wong: So Kandelia, so our most of our staff is housed within the school itself in the office of the World Family Center. And we primarily do after-school activities, coordination, partner and coordinating with partnerships and (it) encompasses job-readiness courses. And homework help and bringing in guitar classes and all those things. My job, I’m the community resource navigator, and my job was primarily in food access, getting kids a bag of food every week. And then Kandelia also has a volunteer program and family classes. We do a lot of different things to support the needs of our families.


Hillman: So, when the pandemic first started, which feels like 16 years ago now, but you know, it’s about a month and a half. What was the first reaction? What were the some of the first things that you all were able to do to keep in contact with and keep supporting your students and families?

Wong: Yeah, so we were pretty much in a limbo for the first couple of weeks, we didn’t really know what to do. And then we started contacting our student base  … We ended up contacting over 200 families within the school. The school has about 350 students. Yeah, and we were trying to figure out what their needs were. And that itself was a challenge because our school speaks many different languages, but primarily Spanish and Vietnamese. So we were partnering with an organization who we work closely with, Soccer Without Borders, and they helped us contact most of the Spanish-speaking students. And then our staff helps contact Vietnamese students. And we were just basically trying to see what they needed. Found a need, a big need for food and rent and then went from there and trying to support those needs.

Hillman: So food and rent, how did you support them with that?

Wong: We got a big grant from Seattle Foundation. We got $50,000 from Seattle Foundation and help to basically use that money to support financial needs of families. So we were helping to pay their rent and utility bills. But that money quickly ran out. We gave over $80,000 in financial assistance to our families.

Hillman: And that ran out that quickly?

Wong: Yeah, I think that pretty much just covered April rent for many families. And then now we’re continuing on with food assistance. We continue to have a lot of access to food, mainly through Rainier Valley Food Bank, who has been a really strong partner through before COVID and after. And through that partnership, and a few others as well, we are getting food delivered to about 130 families on a weekly basis through Rainier Valley Food Bank and El Centro Food Bank. They are also helping us to do that.

Hillman: Have you been able to provide any sort of educational support during this?


Wong: Right now, our focus is kind of switching, right? First we thought about, we can’t really address any of the learning aspects until the basic needs are met. So now we feel more comfortable in addressing basic needs.

We’re transitioning into coming up with plans for home learning. Our job-readiness class has been doing some Zoom classes. And now we’re starting to get donations for some sort of activity kits.

Hillman: What’s an activity kit?

Wong: It’s pretty broad. It’s just what we’re calling it for now, but it’s anything to help with youth development and home learning and deliver them to families. So we’ve gotten some donations from the Sheng-Yen Lu Foundation, who is trying to support anything that encompasses home learning or youth development, trying to get those resources out to family.

Hillman: Calling 200 families and checking in with 200 families on a regular basis — that’s not an easy task. How do you do that?

Wong: No, it’s been very, very time consuming and we have a lot of different partners who are helping to contact students, as well as teachers, our staff, Soccer Without Borders. We just have this big Google Doc running to kind of compile information and making sure we keep track of the students who need resources. Depending on the person, some people are contacting like 20 different families, so it’s definitely a lot to keep track of.

Hillman: As it becomes clear that this is a long-term shift that you’re going to have to make — everybody is going to have to be making — have you learned any key lessons or other ways that you all have adapted things? Advice that you could give other organizations?


Wong: Yeah, it’s definitely a big thing has been just doing research and keeping up with what resources are out there that are still available to help.

Hillman: Like financial resources?

Wong: Anything, really, like financial resources or maybe like a hotline that we can give to families to contact about health information, rent laws or immigration information. Because we are kind of acting as the connectors to all of the resources that are available out there. Now, we are directly providing food resources, but everything else is kind of just out of our reach. So we are trying to gather that information and get that information out to families.

Hillman: Are there important immigration resources people should know about right now?

Wong: We’ve mostly been using the City of Seattle’s COVID resources. That list has been updated. And then there’s a lot on immigration and any resources are pretty much on that list. And that’s been really helpful. But, yeah, not too many concerns about that have actually come up, but knowing that information, that’s been a good thing.

Hillman: OK. Are there ways that people could help you all directly?

Wong: Yeah, definitely. So we are definitely taking donations on our website at That money will go to help with rent support or any financial support and our food deliveries as well. We have, as I said before, we have a lot of access to food. But we unfortunately don’t have any bags to deliver the food in or any clean bags to deliver the food. So that has been an interesting problem to sort out. We have some used paper bags, but in this situation, that’s not the most ideal. So finding clean new bags has been very difficult.


Hillman: Are there other things that you think people should really be aware of at this point, things folks should be thinking about with regards to both your work and supporting students in general?

Wong: So a lot of our families don’t have the technology resources or resources to internet, so that’s something that we’re trying to work on, is getting hotspots delivered to families who are not in an area where there’s free Wi-Fi. And Seattle Public Schools is offering laptops to most of the students, so we’re working on getting those laptops delivered, hand-delivered to our students. But yeah, I think the need is mostly financial. Our families are struggling with paying any sort of bills or getting the basic needs that they require.

Hillman: You said that you’re hand-delivering some of the laptops and hot spots and stuff. Are people having trouble getting to places to pick up the resources they need?

Wong: Yeah, so our school is in the Central District, but our students in our families live all over Seattle, mostly South Seattle. So a lot of them rely on public transportation. And then we’re finding a lot of families are worried about leaving their homes and increasing exposure. So a lot of our staff, our partners, school staff, are trying to get laptops delivered to the families.

Hillman: Great. Well, thanks so much for your time. Thank you to everybody who joined us for this quick, brief look into what Kandelia is doing to support communities.  Thank you for joining us. Thank you for everybody who tuned in. We’ll be having another episode of Ed Lab Live on Wednesday, talking about how young people can stay active in shaping their communities even while at home. With Yazmin from Centro Latino, thank you have a good rest of your day.

Wong: Thanks, Anne.