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21 Progress: Leadership Development for Low-Wage Workers

By Bob Shimabukuro 

21Progress, created by UFCW Local 21 to provide leadership development among mostly low wage workers, their families and communities, held a launch party April 3 to introduce the organization and report on its early achievements to a multigenerational gathering.

In distinguishing the new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization among other social justice groups, executive director Sharon Maeda said “we will not reinvent the wheel; we’re committed to being strategic and providing programs that complement, not compete with what other organizations are doing.”

Emphasizing those core values, Maeda discussed three programs: free tax return filing help (in 11 different languages)
for low-income youth and immigrant workers, an immigrant leadership train- ing in Yakima (both recently completed), and a continuing program which offers no-interest loans to pay the $465 fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program applicants and develops youth leadership skills.

The organization was endowed with funds large enough to sustain a small staff from the sale of Sunset House, an 82- unit apartment building constructed in 1981 by the Retail Store Employees Union

Local 1001 (which is now a part of UFCW Local 21) for low income residents. It originally housed many union retirees but the number decreased over time until the last one died in 2009.

The union decided to sell the property to Housing Resources Group, a nonprofit developer which agreed to preserve
the 82 units of low income elderly and disabled housing, and ensure a seamless transition for current residents during the construction and renovation work.

In doing so, Local 21 continued the important legacy of Sunset House as housing for low income elderly, while beginning another important strategy of building a new generation of leaders.

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