Where the Vans Go: Washington West African Center
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Where the Vans Go: Washington West African Center

May 18, 2021

Whether it’s transportation to local language classes or access to food and vaccines, one van can make a big difference to the community it serves — just ask the Washington West African Center (WAWAC), formerly known as Gambian Talents Promotion. They were awarded a 15-passenger van in 2020 through our Van GO program, and the vehicle has quickly become a vital tool in the work they do. 

Vans reaching the end of their service life with Community Transit’s Vanpool shared commute program can get a second chance to make a difference in the community by being awarded to local nonprofit organizations. Community Transit’s Van GO competitive grant program launched in 2000 and has since awarded 158 vans and wheelchair lift-equipped paratransit vehicles to qualified 501(c)3 organizations throughout Snohomish County. The WAWAC van has helped bring their services to more people.

WAWAC operates mostly in the Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties. These three counties serve as home to over 20,000 West Africans.

“We connect West Africans with local resources and help bridge the gap with the wider community,” says Executive Coordinator Pa Ousman Joof. “We have an office in Lynnwood from which we provide several services, such as grocery assistance, translation and interpretation services, after-school programs, community events, homework club, a youth capacity project where we teach youth multimedia skills like web design, and programs to help single moms in our community.”

Seniors, who often have barriers to being able to travel places easily, have been able to participate in more of the programs offered by WAWAC now that transportation is more accessible, says Joof. 

The van has helped WAWAC transport and serve food to community member during the pandemic.“Seniors are important members of our community. Many of us brought our moms here with us when we moved here, and many of our mothers have no formal education and often don’t speak the language. We have monthly get-togethers for seniors,  which keeps them connected to important traditions from back home. We also offer adult learning classes — they can learn English and Arabic and we organize cultural and diversity programs. Many of these seniors do not drive. Before we had the van, we were using our personal vehicles to help, but people were missing out on our programs because we couldn’t pick everyone up. Now we can,” says Joof. 

Amid the challenges of the pandemic, the 15-passenger van has been instrumental in helping them expand the work they do.

“The most important work we are using the van for right now is to transport community members, especially our seniors, to mobile vaccination sites so that they can get their vaccines,” says Joof.

“There are many misconceptions about the vaccine in our community,” says Joof, who explains how WAWAC helps answer questions about vaccinations and offers rides to vaccine sites and a stipend for people’s time. “We are able to transport a dozen people at a time, and currently, we are making two or three trips each week.”  

As community events have had to be changed to allow social distancing, the van has provided an option for bringing services to people who need them. 

“We are in Ramadan right now,” says Joof.  “We have something called Sukuri Ndogu; It means ‘fast-breaking sugar.’ When we are back home in Africa, at the beginning of Ramadan, community members will give the senior members of their communities food to break their fast with. Last week, we gave about 85 seniors food — sugar, milk, onions, potatoes. We couldn’t have brought food to so many without the van,” he says. 

Community Transit plans to grant more vehicles to local nonprofit organizations later this year. Do you know of a local organization doing important work in our community? Share this opportunity with them so they can apply when we begin taking applications. Visit communitytransit.org/vango to learn more. Questions about the program and eligibility can be sent to to Kristen Ryan at (425) 348-7196 or vango@commtrans.org.