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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Washington Policy Center: For hope in the future, look to Spokane

By Lia Knight

By Lia Knight

Imagine being a child, growing up with the promise of educated, middle-class parents, only to suddenly have almost everything you know and love ripped from your life. You are forced to leave your home for a place across the world where you don’t know the language, don’t have a lot of money, and don’t have a single friend. How long would you expect your family to need to recover from all that? Would they ever?

For Spokane’s Sidiq Moltafet, that scenario is not hypothetical. His father was murdered in an explosion. His family suspects it was because his mother was a college professor in Kabul, so they were a target for the Taliban and other extremists. His family left Afghanistan, and it eventually settled in Spokane, with few resources, and even fewer friends. Unable to speak English, Sidiq and his brothers faced a new life here, alone, among strangers with a different culture.

Fast forward to now.

In an interview process for the finalists to receive Washington Policy Center’s Jennifer Dunn Thomson scholarship, Sidiq described his family as thriving. Both he and his brothers are well educated. His brothers work in high-tech fields, while he is pursuing a degree in journalism.

How did this happen?

Sidiq mentions one constant in his essay – the kindness of the people of Spokane. He described how the American dream, which had seemed impossible when he arrived in Spokane, was made possible by individuals from all walks of life coming together to aid his family. He praised their “commitment to public service” and willingness to put “the needs of their community before their own” with “strength, resilience and grit” as the support that enabled him to thrive in his new home.

Sidiq’s story should make every resident of Spokane proud, but so should the story of Katie Kenlein.

College prices have skyrocketed, and students have been graduating with crushing debt commensurate with the increases, often with degrees leading to work with wages not adequate to cover the cost. With government-backed loans in plentiful supply, institutions of higher learning don’t have a realistic incentive to cut prices. Many politicians like the idea of loan forgiveness (even if the U.S. Supreme Court reminded them there was a limit to their ability to do it), but the public has not been so keen to take on the freely acquired debts of others. Many people paid back their loans or chose other avenues to learn trades, so the idea of wiping away the loans of those who went to college and making those who did not pay it back has not gained the political traction some had hoped for.

For Spokane’s Kenlein, however, the argument is moot. Katie is working two jobs on campus at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and has earned a number of scholarships (including part of WPC’s Jennifer Dunn Thomson Scholarship). Her diligent savings, two jobs and commendable work ethic have enabled her to pay for each semester of college without using loans. Her goal is to finish college with no debt.

If that were her only achievement, it would be impressive, but she’s also a scholar majoring in communications and minoring in Spanish and political science. She is a community volunteer, and she even carved out two weeks to go to Bolivia to serve in ministries this past summer.

In other words, she embodies the grit, determination and work ethic of Spokane residents noticed by Sidiq upon arriving here.

Washington Policy Center’s Jennifer Dunn Thomson scholarship seeks nominees from across the state that exemplify the late congresswoman’s leadership and commitment to public service. It’s remarkable that two should come from a single city in a single year. But as the stories of these young people demonstrate, Spokane is a remarkable place with remarkable people.

There are many terrible and depressing things happening in the news right now, and Spokane is not immune. But if the character, kindness and values exemplified by the stories of these two young people are any indication, Spokane’s future is as promising as ever.

Lia Knight is the director of Washington Policy Center’s Young Professionals program and a former syndicated radio host. She is based in Lakewood, Washington.