As Azadeh Eslamy tried to describe Kids and Paper, she was repeatedly interrupted by elementary school students proudly showing off wads of chunky, colorful slime that globbed onto their fingers, faces and occasionally the floor of the temporary community center at Magnuson Park.
Kids and Paper, she explained, is a budding after-school program in northeast Seattle, formed by Eslamy during the pandemic after the native Californian and her family moved back to the U.S. from Beirut, Lebanon, in the midst of the economic collapse.
Once settled in Seattle, Eslamy said her daughter found “therapy” to process their resettling through art. Around the same time, she noticed kids roaming Magnuson Park without any programming when they were out of school.
“That’s when the idea of Kids and Paper happened,” Eslamy said, adding that the program helps kids “resettle” after life events ranging from her daughter’s international move to local families experiencing housing insecurity.
Now, less than two years in, the program and its six-person staff provide a hot meal, reading lessons, arts and crafts and other support to children from kindergarten until fifth grade. The program operates five days a week, and is growing with help from a city grant program created to bring the ideas of Seattleites to life.
The Community Partnership Fund, established in 1988, now grants up to $50,000 to small projects led by the community, including festivals, playgrounds, community centers and educational programs.
“We have other funding for neighborhood projects, but we want to use this to provide seed funding for the community, to invest in the power of community and their ability to forge their own solutions,” Sims said.
Eslamy and one other staffer started Kids and Paper in July 2021 with about $3,500, raised through individual donations, and permission to operate out of a building at Magnuson Park.
“I harassed every single person that I’ve ever known in my life,” Eslamy said of early fundraising. “Even a few of my friends, I called and said ‘I need $20 right now.’ ”
During the school year, anywhere from 25 to 35 kids show up each day. Last summer, attendance was about 80 kids a day.
The program primarily serves kids in the Magnuson area, a majority of whom live in nearby low-income housing, but is open to “anyone who needs it,” Eslamy said. The free, low-barrier child care has attracted families to come from as far as Marysville and Renton.
“And we never turn anyone away,” Eslamy said, noting that local high school students — like two who came in while she was talking — often come by looking for some lunch or a place to just be.
As the program grew, Eslamy said they wanted to provide more to the kids, so they sought a grant from the city to create science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning opportunities.
“Projects that come from the community and involve the community are exactly what we’re after,” said Daniel Sims, Community Grants Supervisor for Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods.
During the last round of funding in November, 21 groups were granted between $8,000 and $50,000 to fund neighborhood-enrichment projects.
The plans included an array of art and cultural efforts — like The Seattle Griot Project, which will offer multimedia training in photo, film, audio, print and web content development to help preserve Black history — and practical community improvements, like resurfacing tennis courts at Rogers Playfield and pedestrian visibility improvements at a Beacon Hill intersection.
Kids and Paper received nearly $32,000 to invest in things like science experiments, 3D printers and twice-weekly math tutoring for all of its participants.
“We are so humbled by the acknowledgment and support from the city,” Eslamy said, noting that the young, small organization could not afford the STEM program without it.
This year, the fund has about $1.9 million to grant similar “ad hoc groups and grassroots programs” for neighborhood improvements.
There will be two rounds of applications — one open now through March 13, and another open July 11-Sept. 11. The city will host virtual workshops from 10-11:30 a.m. on Jan. 28 and Feb 8 to discuss project ideas and applications.
“The biggest thing about the community matching fund is it isn’t a single lane,” Sims said, encouraging applicants to reach out to the Department of Neighborhoods to share their ideas.
The main criteria, Sims added, is that whatever projects they fund should “benefit the community and bring the community together.”
More information about the Community Partnership Fund can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/nmf.