A Benefit to Students That’s Major League

By United Way of King County, on July 11, 2023 | In Helping Students Graduate, News

Kiara Romba came to the United States from Côte d’Ivoire carrying checked-bag-sized dreams, the first in her family from the West African nation to go to college. The last thing she needed was to be felled by fates from outside the classroom—lack of food, housing woes, money shortages, and other shortcomings that often prompt college students to leave school short of obtaining their degrees.

Fortunately, Romba enrolled at Shoreline Community College, which is one of 10 local colleges that house a United Way of King County Bridge to Finish Benefits Hub, a one-stop shop for resources such as food, emergency aid, transportation and housing assistance. The Shoreline Benefits Hub, in fact, was selected by Major League Baseball (MLB) for renovation and refurbishment as part of its outreach during this week’s All-Star Game festivities.

Through its Legacy Initiative, Major League Baseball seeks to leave a lasting impact on the All-Star Game host city via community improvement projects. Through its Legacy Initiative this year, Major League Baseball team up with United Way, Shoreline Community College and the league’s Seattle Mariners to renovate the Shoreline Benefits Hub. The Legacy Initiative also established a scholarship program with the Seattle Colleges Foundation to provide financial support that will keep students in school. The renovated facility was showcased prior to tonight’s All Star Game, which will be played at the Mariners’ T-Mobile Park.

All of this is welcoming to Romba, the eldest of her siblings, who said that resources like the Benefits Hub will help her stay on track to fulfill her goals of making an impact in finance and economics.

“Like every other woman of my generation, my dream is to leave a mark and impact on my journey,” Romba said. “What better way than to study [finance and economics] here in the United States. Being accepted into Shoreline Community College is the first step to achieving my goal.

The United Way Benefits Hub at Shoreline Community College, renovated by a partnership that included Major League Baseball and the Seattle Mariners.

“But there have also been adventures,” Romba added. “Arriving in a country where you have to adapt yourself to a new culture, to a new language, to a new environment and learn everything by yourself, and you also have to socialize and deal with tough worries. But I was miraculously saved by the Benefits Hub, and many of my friends also benefitted from this assistance.”

Romba said that housing support from the easily accessible Benefits Hub, which is just across the hall from the school bookstore, allowed her to focus on her studies and adapt to her new surroundings. Last week, Major League Baseball made good on ensuring that that kind of help to students continues, stocking the facility with food and drink (mostly nonperishable), a microwave and coffee maker, clothing, toiletries, blankets and other accessories.

Leigh Toner, United Way board member (left) and Emma Ratcliffe, United Way engagement officer, stand before the Shoreline Benefits Hub pantry.

The refurbishment was completed and unveiled last week, just in time for the start of summer session.

“For Major League Baseball to come together with partners to change lives is the most important work we can do off the baseball field,” said April Brown, Major League Baseball senior vice president, social responsibility & community affairs. “We get to set up families for success, strengthen communities and build futures. And there’s no better way to do that than it do it with local community partners such as United Way of King County.”

Benefits Hubs are one of United Way’s commitments to ensuring that local college students stay on the course en route to obtaining their degrees. An evaluation conducted by MDRC (an organization that develops education and social programs for the impoverished) and the Washington Student Achievement Council found that participants who accessed Benefits Hub services were 25% more likely than students of similar backgrounds to persist and complete their college education.

The unveiling of the renovated Benefits Hub drew a crowd.

The Shoreline Community College refurbishment comes just months after United Way successfully advocated for the passage of the Washington Legislature’s House Bill 1559 (the Student Basic Needs Act), which mandates that each institution of higher education has at least one benefits navigator to assist students in accessing public benefits, emergency assistance programs and community resources.

“The Benefits Hub is a place where students can meet caring people and get connected to a variety of support,” said Emily Portillo, United Way Benefits Hub program manager. “So far, these Benefits Hubs have helped more than 15,000 students receive basic needs resources.”

Romba said that support from the Benefits Hub was a huge relief from her family back home, who she said are praying for her success. “Benefits Hub is not just a name,” she said, “but it’s the story of many students who find hope; a refuge of many students who are lost in the realities of a life they just discovered.”


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