Local Treasures with Pia: Manzanita House helps immigrants find legal aid and community

Spokane, Washington – Manzanita House is a brand-new non-profit that was incorporated by a group of professionals and volunteers, who’d been active in the immigrant community in Spokane for years.

The organization, which recently received some funding from the Avista Foundation, is devoted to creating a space where all immigrants to feel fully engaged in the community.

The name is inspired by the Manzanita plant, which thrives in the wake of wildfires and other environmental hardships.

At the Manzanita House, immigrants can access low-cost immigration legal aid mainly through the organization’s immigration attorney, Sam Smith.

“Sam has worked in immigration in Spokane for the last four years,” said Brielle Balazs, who volunteers as development director for Manzanita House. “Since we opened in December, he has already had more than 200 consultations with people from 30 different countries.”

Balazs said that access to low-cost immigration legal aid can be difficult to find in Spokane.

“We help people with adjustment of immigration status, family unification, and other humanitarian-based immigration needs,” Balazs said.

This summer, Manzanita House hosted a pilot program of Arabic language classes for eight weeks. The goal was to teach younger Arabic immigrants better proficiency in their first language so they can speak with grandparents and uncles.

“The Arabic speaking community really desired this program, and it was a great success,” Balazs said. “There were many more kids registered than what we expected, and teachers were volunteers from the community – it was really beautiful.”

Immigrant children often lose their first language as they assimilate into the education system.

“They often speak the language but writing and reading in their family’s language becomes very difficult for some,” Balazs said. “The enthusiasm for the program was amazing. We created a safe space where they could really be themselves.”

Balazs added that the mission of Manzanita House is to make immigrants self-sufficient, and to help them overcome barriers related to their immigration status.

“It means a lot to them to fully become part of our community,” Balazs said.

Manzanita House has a small staff so far but is hoping to expand the language program in the future and maybe turn it into a year-long program with more languages than Arabic.

“Those of us who started Manzanita House have all been doing work with immigrants in the community for many years,” Balazs said. “It’s very nice for us to now all be together in the same location.”

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

Learn more about the programs and services of Manzanita House at manzanitahousespokane.org.

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  1. Local Treasures with Pia
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