Ashley Elizabeth Sheriff – EACS Strategic Initiatives Coordinator


Immediately after graduating from a dual Master’s program in African Studies and Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, I was certain that I’d dive headfirst into Africana librarianship. As I sat refining my curriculum vitae and searching for jobs that practically peppered the breadth of the continental United States, I questioned my impact on some of the very problems that led me to such a specialized discipline in the first place. As a graduate student I was attentive to barriers that stifled African researchers’ contributions to the world’s body of academic scholarship – but how could I affect real change as a newly minted information specialist?

On a whim I ‘Googled’ agencies that have a focus on preparing African youth for post-secondary scholarship, and serendipity led me right to East African Community Services’ (EACS) web site.  New to the non-profit sector, EACS is my crash-course introduction to the barriers that prevent African youth from successfully matriculating and thriving in institutions of higher education.  This grassroots organization has been firmly rooted in Seattle’s New Holly neighborhood since the year 2000, and has become a trusted community resource for naturalization services and educational enrichment programs designed for low-income immigrant and refugee families in Washington State’s King County.

Back at my computer desk I poured over EACS’ annual reports and program listings, and it was love at first sight. I intended to apply for any capacity building opportunities this agency could offer – that could be accomplished remotely, of course.  I reached out to EACS staff that day for a part-time grant writing internship, but was immediately encouraged to apply for the on-site Strategic Initiatives Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA position. As fate would have it, my husband, who’d been applying to jobs in nearly every major city received an offer in Redmond, located about 18 miles northeast of Seattle. I applied in November, and set off for my new life, and renewed sense of purpose by the year’s end.

Just four months into my service term I’ve already made a tangible impact by raising EACS’ financial capacity to deliver educational enrichment programs. I’ve helped develop, and am now implementing this fiscal year’s resource development plan and grant application schedule. And my work as a grant-writing project lead has directly led to more than $29,399.00 in winning grant proposals and over $3,129.00 in corporate cash and in-kind donations, and the returns from an online giving campaign. Notwithstanding my accomplishments, my experience as a VISTA is by no means a cake walk; I am fully immersed in the unglamorous work of helping to sustain and scale up programs within a lean organization. Yet, I finally feel the satisfaction that comes with impacting real change by helping to ensure that EACS can continue to meet the needs of low-income, and especially African youth in King County.


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