Nayheli Mendivil arrived early to set up the Welcoming Center table at the Bellevue Library, displaying brochures and other information aimed at easing the anxieties of King County refugees, immigrants and new arrivals.
People began arriving in a steady stream, greeted by Mendivil’s warm smile, openness and willingness to help. As one of KCLS’ Welcoming Ambassadors, she has received special training to assist those making some of the toughest transitions of their lives. Ambassadors provide friendly faces as well as connections and resources to lessen the stress of adapting to a new home and culture.
On a recent Wednesday, one man brought his cousin, a woman from Pakistan attending Bellevue College, and asked Mendivil about healthcare, jobs and citizenship information. Another man who spoke Chinese took a pamphlet on medical information, while a woman from India inquired about entrepreneurship programs. Each filled out a form so Mendivil could follow up with them after researching information, including KCLS resources, tailored to their situations.
“I like to think that I give people a hand up,” Mendivil said. “Information is the key to everything.”
She also let them know about Welcoming Week, September 8-17. The national celebration affirms the importance of building strong community connections with all people. KCLS is celebrating Welcoming Week with multicultural Story Times, book lists, resource fairs and other events.
In response to rising demand, KCLS has added both Welcoming Centers and contracted with more ambassadors, thanks to grant support from the KCLS Foundation. Throughout the year, KCLS holds weekly Welcoming Centers at Bellevue, Kent, Federal Way 320th, Auburn, Tukwila and Redmond Libraries. There are now ambassadors who speak Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Ukrainian and Arabic. KCLS is also hoping to hire an ambassador who speaks Somali.
Teresa Luengo Cid, KCLS World Language Coordinator, said the number of personalized, one-on-one Welcoming Center has nearly doubled since March, with more than 100 people being helped. Of those, 81% are new to the country, she said. People can come by a library or go online to Ask an Ambassador for information on housing, education, employment and other needs.
Mendivil trained as an ambassador before the COVID pandemic closed libraries to the public. She already had unique work and personal experience that help her identify with newcomers and address their concerns. The oldest daughter of immigrants from Mexico, she has a special heart for this work. She studied international relations, earning an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and a Master’s degree from the University of Washington. She served as a family engagement specialist with the Bellevue School District for 11 years, putting to use her advocacy, resource and networking skills. In addition to her ambassador job, she is working as a legal immigration advocate for Lutheran Community Services.
“Nahyeli (Mendivil) is extremely knowledgeable,” said Oscar McNary, a Public Services Specialist at the Bellevue Library. “I think people come to see her.”
Indeed, one man who had recently arrived from Congo several weeks earlier, returned to the library to say hello and give Nahyeli an update—in French. Fluent in Spanish, she drew on many years of French to learn that his family had found housing through resources she provided, and that his wife had given birth.
“I was meant to be here,” Mendivil said. “I wanted to see the world; now the world comes to me!”