Tzu Chi Volunteers in Seattle Work to Help Neighbors in Need

Northwest  |  May 31, 2023
"Hope Factory" Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers group photo
Since September 2022, Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers have been going to the "Hope Factory" to help build small wooden houses, collaborating with other organizations to provide shelter for those struggling with homelessness. Photo/Evelyn Cheng

Translated by Ariel Chan
Written by Evelyn Cheng
Edited by Patrick McShane 

In a busy industrial area South of downtown Seattle, there’s an unassuming metal building. What’s produced here isn’t commodities or consumer products; rather it’s small wooden houses built for those experiencing homelessness. Since 2018, the grassroots charity organization Sound Foundations has been dedicated to building small wooden houses for the unhoused as part of the “Hope Factory” charity project. Over the years, Sound Foundations has partnered with other local organizations to create small wooden house villages in the greater Seattle area, providing shelter from the wind and rain for neighbors in need and assisting them in finding a more stable living situation.

Hand written banner on wooden board
hand written sticker banner

Tzu Chi USA Seattle Branch donats the first small wooden house built at the “Hope Factory” and named it “Contentment.” Photo/ Evelyn Cheng

In September 2022, Tzu Chi USA Seattle Service Center volunteers officially received an invitation from the “Hope Factory” to participate in building small wooden houses every Saturday. Over the course of a year, more than 40 volunteers joined, accumulating nearly 300 hours of hard work for the community. During this time, they also collaborated with Tzu Ching, Tzu Chi USA’s university-based youth organization, and Tzu Ching alumni teams to invite college students and young volunteers to give their time and talent. By May 2023, Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers had also raised $4,300 in donations, allowing them to donate the first small wooden house. On the day of the donation ceremony, volunteers joined forces to paint the small wooden house and named it “Contentment.” They hope that the future residents of this small wooden house will feel blessed, experience contentment, gratitude, understanding, and tolerance, and find the motivation to transform their lives.

A Life Requires a Home

3 Volunteers doing woodwork together
Over the past year, many Tzu Chi volunteers have come to the “Hope Factory” to help build small wooden houses. Photo/Evelyn Cheng

The overpasses and sidewalks of Seattle are home to many who are experiencing homelessness. This serious and difficult problem is cause for concern among many in society. How can this issue be fundamentally solved? It requires the collective efforts of all members of society. Therefore, many non-governmental organizations have begun to collaborate with the government to address the needs of our neighbors in great need.

Among the four basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation, “shelter” is the most crucial issue facing the unhoused. Finding shelter is the first step to establishing a life. Providing a place to shelter from the wind and rain can bring about transformative changes in lives. “We began discussing how to help the homeless a year ago. We also provided supplies to them during the winter, but it wasn’t an effective solution because, among the four basic human needs, shelter might be the most important. It was with this intention that we participated in the ‘Hope Factory’ project,” said Tzu Chi volunteer Yeeju Wu.

The connection between Tzu Chi Seattle and the “Hope Factory” began two and a half years ago when Min-Min Wong, the late husband of a Tzu Chi volunteer, felt a strong desire to help the homeless. After his passing, his son found an opportunity to fulfill his father’s wish by building a small wooden house at the “Hope Factory.” This incident inspired Tzu Chi USA Seattle Service Center. Charity Commissioner Laura Chen invited Yeeju Wu, who had experience building small wooden houses, to lead the small wooden house project.

Volunteer writing blessing message on the wall
Volunteers helping build small wooden houses leave blessing on the walls. Photo/Evelyn Cheng

The past year has seen a steady growth in the number of volunteers. Even those who cannot volunteer themselves find ways to help the project along. Due to physical limitations that prevented him from being on-site, Tzu Ching senior Po-Chen Yang made a heartfelt donation to cover the material costs of two small wooden houses. “If my donation of a small wooden house can help an unhoused person no longer wander the streets, enabling them to transition to long-term housing, I will feel that I’ve put in my best effort,” said Po-Chen Yang.

Next, we hope to enter the small wooden house communities, just as Tzu Chi does in its daily activities – to connect with them, understand them, and provide them with companionship and the necessary assistance.

Creating Hope

“The average length of stay for a resident in the small wooden house is one hundred and fourteen days, and on average, three people will use this house each year. The small house can last for twenty years, so sixty people will benefit from the small house you donated,” said Barb Oliver, Operations Director of Sound Foundations Northwest, in grateful acknowledgment of Tzu Chi’s material donation. In addition to the financial donation, she was deeply moved by the dedication of Tzu Chi volunteers to constructing the small houses: “We want you to know that we are very grateful in our hearts. The future residents of this house will also be very grateful to have a warm and safe home because of it.”

volunteers painting small wooden house
volunteers painting small wooden house

Tzu Chi volunteers help paint the small wooden houses. Photo/Evelyn Cheng

In addition to getting the project started and inviting volunteers to join the effort, Yeeju Wu has also involved his family. His son Stanley Wu has been participating in the activity once a month since the beginning of the year. He expressed that the problem of neighbors living on the street in Seattle is heartbreaking, and having the power to make a difference motivates him to continue participating. Being able to return to volunteering after graduating from college and engaging in such meaningful work makes him happy. When the first new home was completed, he said, “I’m very pleased that we were able to contribute in various ways, including time, manpower, and donations. This demonstrates everyone’s concern and attention to the homeless phenomenon. Our accumulated volunteer hours and monetary donations have seen tangible impacts today. It’s a reflection of everyone’s kindness, concern, and contribution.” He also called on everyone to join and learn.

Barb Oliver, Operations Director of Sound Foundations Northwest, writes Tzu Chi's name on the sign
Barb Oliver, Operations Director of Sound Foundations Northwest, writes Tzu Chi's name on the sign. Photo/Evelyn Cheng
The “Hope Factory” attaches a sign with Tzu Chi's name alongside those of other contributing organizations
The “Hope Factory” attaches a sign with Tzu Chi's name alongside those of other contributing organizations. Photo/Evelyn Cheng

The “Hope Factory” creates hope by providing shelter for those experiencing homelessness, which is also a hope for Tzu Chi. Many Tzu Chi youth volunteers eagerly participate in the project. “This project fills us with joy every time and makes us full of hope. We are encouraged by seeing the younger generation willing to contribute. In the future, we will invite more Tzu Chi youths and alumni to participate,” Laura Chen said. The completion of each small wooden house bears witness to the efforts and care of countless people from all corners of society, carrying their trust and hope in a compassionate society. In the future, Tzu Chi will continue to cultivate love drop by drop, and pool together strength to make the dark corners of society brighter.

This year, we plan to build four houses. We name the houses donated by Tzu Chi with the four blessings: Contentment, Gratitude, Understanding, and Tolerance.

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