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It’s a Wrap for Cohort 4 of the WTIA Ion Collaborators

On August 28th, the members of Ion’s fourth cohort gathered at the Ionosphere, Impact Hub to showcase their final projects and celebrate their graduation from the program. This cohort was our first one designed with an external partner. We worked with the We Belong Here program, a part of the Seattle Foundation’s Civic Commons Initiative that bridges the growing divides in our region by changing the way we work together to address our greatest challenges. The cohort explored the concept of “belonging” in three different Seattle-area neighborhoods: Crossroads (Bellevue), Skyway (between Seattle and Renton), and South Park (Seattle). This was the first time Ion ever organized teams with a focus on specific geographic areas. Each team elected a project manager, who shared with us their teams’ goals and how they adapted to meet them along the way. 


The ultimate mission of the Crossroads team was to find a way to connect the neighborhood’s many disconnected resources. 

“It wasn’t logistics or awareness that was the issue,” said Dr. EV VanderWeil, a longtime nonprofit leader who is now an independent consultant working with nonprofits. “It was more to do with the attitude people had toward sharing and what belonging is…With resource sharing, people often look to some sort of agency or impersonal edifice to provide or facilitate resource-sharing, and that really doesn’t help with belonging. Belonging has to be more immediate and personal.”

The team initially had a vision to create a fair that connected Crossroads residents with the resources in their neighborhood. However, they ran out of time, pushing them to think more creatively. Also, “[The resource fair] has been tried over and over again,” said Dr. VanderWeil.

The team decided to hold a game night featuring four games created by American Indians at Uncle’s Games in the thriving Crossroads Mall, which captured the spirit of sharing of the resource fair. One game called Potlatch, which was created by a group of American Indian academics and gamers called N.D.N. Players Research Group, is based on sharing resources to meet other players’ needs for food, materials, technology, and knowledge. The team learned about the game when they interviewed the game makers during their Ion Exploration period. The Crossroads team highlighted this game in a playbook they designed to encourage resource-sharing in the neighborhood, which they plan to distribute to interviewees, subject matter experts, and Hopelink centers. (Read more about the other games here.)

After the game night event, the team surveyed attendees, who overwhelmingly expressed interest in doing it again. 

“We likely won’t keep it going in any sort of centralized fashion,” Dr. VanderWeil said. “I think the power of small groups changing the world is through decentralization.”


This team set out to use digital platforms to change the conversation about Skyway, an unincorporated area of King County between Seattle and Renton.

“A series of interviews we did revealed several negative stigmas associated with Skyway,” said Jose Perez, operations administrator at Pointe3 Real Estate. “People felt that it was a rough and tough area that didn’t have a lot going on.” 

Perez, whose fiancé grew up in Skyway, explained that the community faces unique challenges due to its unincorporated status. 

““But there’s a deep sense of community there. Whenever there’s an event, the turnout is really big…with a ton of people from different backgrounds,” he said. 

The team filmed video interviews with residents, including some who attended the Skyway Outdoor Cinema. The residents shared real, uplifting stories about their community. The videos will be broadcasted through a social media campaign called “Stories of Skyway” and housed on new Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

“The goal is to amplify the rich culture that’s already there and start a more positive dialogue about the community,” Perez said.

South Park

The South Park team’s project evolved out of an interview team members had with Lupine Miller, a librarian who works at the South Park branch.

“She said there were a lot of young people in the neighborhood who didn’t have enough to do after school,” said Brittny Nielsen, who is also a communications manager at Compass Housing Alliance and a South Park resident.

The team organized a boat tour on the Duwamish River through the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition for members of the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps with the financial support of the Seattle Foundation’s Civic Commons. Though the members of the youth corps volunteer their time cleaning up the river, they had never formally gotten a tour of it. The team filmed short interviews with four corps members on a 360° camera after the tour. They then edited the experience into a video and programmed it into a beacon near the river, which can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone. (Learn more about how beacon technology works here.) 

“We wanted to give them ways to tell a story about the things they see every day with technology,” Nielsen said. She sees the project evolving into a space in which local youths can use beacon technology to create stories about topics that are important to them. She is currently in talks with the local library and other community members about who will take the project over. 

Nielsen has seen firsthand what stories the children of South Park are capable of telling.

“One of the kids specifically talked about one of the areas of pollution along the river and the efforts they’d taken to fix it,” she said. “I was surprised to see she’d grasped so much of that information. Not only is she interested in participating in the community, but she’s seeing things that can improve and teaching those things to cohort members.” Read more about the projects here.


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