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Originally published September 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 19, 2007 at 1:59 PM

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Goal: aiding Eastside diversity

Serving an increasingly diverse Eastside population will require the creation of local gathering spots, mentorships and respect for other...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Serving an increasingly diverse Eastside population will require the creation of local gathering spots, mentorships and respect for other cultures, according to a panel of community leaders who spoke Tuesday.

"We want to create civility," said Ron Sher, the managing partner of Bellevue's Crossroads mall, known for its multicultural programs. "We want everyone to feel comfortable."

Sher joined Lourdes Salazar, president of the Eastside Latino Leadership Forum, and Eddie Pate, the director of U.S. diversity and inclusion for Starbucks, in the panel organized by Leadership Eastside, a training program for community leaders. About 90 people attended the luncheon at Cascadia Community College in Bothell.

One of the first tasks is acknowledging that the Eastside is becoming more diverse, and those new groups of residents have unique needs, Salazar said. In California, leaders largely ignored the growing number of minority groups moving in, she said, and the state is now divided.

"We don't want to deny what's happening here," Salazar said. "... We've got to do something."

Creating welcoming places outside work and home helps new residents become invested in their cities, Sher said. Some school districts have invited parents for small meetings over coffee, for example, and Starbucks is among the companies that host community groups, according to the panel.

Before the discussion began, the luncheon's organizers cited research that indicates the Eastside is far removed from being a largely white, native-born enclave. Nearly a third of Bellevue's residents are foreign-born, up from a quarter five years ago, according to census estimates last year.

The percentage of nonwhite residents in Bellevue has eclipsed that of Seattle, jumping from 14 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2000 and 32 percent in 2005, according to the estimates.

Between 2000 and 2006, the number of Hispanic residents on the Eastside shot up 36 percent; Asians 33 percent and blacks 13 percent, according to research.

Seventeen percent of Eastside residents speak a language in addition to English at home, and among Bellevue School District families, 65 languages are spoken.

The Eastside needs to maintain "this wonderful richness" while also providing a place where everyone can be respected, Sher said.

Many immigrant families "hunker down" upon arrival, but if public officials and community leaders reach out, those new residents can eventually become leaders in nonprofit groups, commissions and city councils, the panel said.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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