Debbie Lacy has a vision. It’s an Eastside where everyone feels welcome, regardless of the language one speaks or the culture they carry with them. It’s an Eastside whose residents know they belong.

Lacy co-founded the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition in early 2002 with the hope of constructing a welcoming network for East King County’s international newcomers, as well as its existing immigrant communities. In 2015, she stepped into her current full-time role as executive director.

Debbie Lacy

Photo by Jeff Hobson

“Who wouldn’t be for having a community that’s safer for everyone?” Lacy said. “A community that’s more inclusive, so that residents have the opportunity to participate in the resources and opportunities there?”

Over the past 16 years, dozens of partners have signed on to the coalition, including nonprofits; advocacy groups; and even the cities of Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, and Sammamish.

When a city joins the coalition, Lacy provides it with a blueprint for how to institutionalize welcoming by way of policies, economic development, civic engagement, and law enforcement reform.

“Inclusivity is a very easy thing to sell. Everybody can get behind it,” Lacy said. “Where the challenge comes is in the operationalizing. So, when people realize if they really want to have an inclusive and welcoming community, that means you have to disrupt inequity, and when you disrupt inequity that’s super uncomfortable, and that’s where people get challenged and we see the tensions start to erupt.”

Growing up as a Mexican-American in rural Indiana, Lacy experienced discrimination first-hand. She began a career in social work largely to protect other families from violence and discrimination and initially moved to the Pacific Northwest to work for Youth Eastside Services. After forming connections and working with communities throughout the Eastside, the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition was a natural next step.

“When I see local elected officials grappling with this, and really trying to lean into how to do this better, it’s inspiring to me,” Lacy said. “I give credit to the people who fight for this inclusivity in the federal-level courts, but that’s not something I personally have in me. What I have in me is the local. The hyper-local. I want to see a safety net, and a community where people can feel like they are a part of this place, and they have a right to be here, and we welcome them, and we’re glad they’re here.


walking dog
8:00 a.m.
Taking Paco for a quick walk. He has an injured knee, so we can’t go far.


debbie lacy
8:35 a.m. 

Mom’s taxi service gets a high approval rating from my 7 year old.


debbie lacy
9:15 a.m.

Talking with a colleague over the phone about an upcoming event we’re organizing.


debbie lacy
10 a.m.

Waiting at Asian Counseling and Referral Service to meet with the India Association of Western Washington.


debbie lacy
12:55 p.m.

Connecting with friends and colleagues at the Eastside Pathways Racial Equity Team meeting at Kirkland City Hall.


debbie lacy
1:50 p.m.

Just parked at Westlake Center, taking in the gorgeous day.


Debbie Lacy
2 p.m.

Enjoying the view from the Seattle Foundation’s 19th-floor suite — fancy.


Debbie Lacy
4 p.m.

“Dot voting” with fellow grantees. This exercise helps us generate a list of ideas and mark our top priorities with sticky dots.


Debbie Lacy
7:15 p.m.

After a long ride home in traffic, time for dinner with the guys and a game of Monopoly. I’m always the shoe.


Debbie Lacy
11:20 p.m.
Reading before bed. If I’m lucky, I’ll last 15 minutes before my eyes get too heavy.