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Funding Woes Close Seattle Immigrant Centers Agency Originally Aided Laid-Off Boeing Workers

A social service agency that has provided immigrants with job training, English lessons and advice for 25 years is closing after losing state and United Way funding.

The Employment Opportunities Center will close its Seattle and Bellevue offices at the end of the month, file for bankruptcy and liquidate its assets, board member Robert Schindler said.

“Nobody really wanted to make the decision and be the quitter, but you have to do what is realistic,” Schindler said.

Other agencies are ready to take over the center’s contracts to provide job training, English as a second language classes, citizenship programs and basic education. There should be few disruptions for the 3,400 Russians, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Hispanics and other immigrants who have relied on the center, state officials said.

The private, nonprofit agency once had a $2 million budget and was one of the region’s major providers of immigrant aid, but it developed financial difficulties and used up most of its cash reserve this year.

Center officials admit they failed to respond quickly enough to new laws governing state and federal payments for social service programs.

Founded in 1972 to help laid-off Boeing workers find new jobs, the center grew rapidly after the end of the Vietnam War, which triggered an influx of refugees.

Financial problems arose in 1994 after the agency opened three learning centers in the Seattle area. After the pilot program ended, the agency spent its savings to keep classrooms open while the state decided whether to fund the program. The agency spent much of its $450,000 reserve by the time new contracts were signed, Schindler said.

This year federal money for job-training programs decreased, and support for the learning centers fell from $316,000 a year to $70,000.

The final blow came when funding from the state Department of Social and Health Services and United Way of King County was withdrawn last month.