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Stirring the melting pot

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SNOQUALMIE - In an area not known for having the most ethnically mixed population in the Northwest, the Habitat for Humanity of East King County neighborhood in Snoqualmie has given the Valley a little diversity.

Of the 20 houses built last year by Habitat for Humanity in Snoqualmie, four of them are inhabited by international families. One of them, the Garcias, has settled comfortably in a neighborhood far from home.

Gil and Maria Garcia met and married in the Philippines, but moved to Bellevue 10 years ago to find more opportunities for their children. Gil eventually got at job on the assembly line at Phillips Oral Healthcare in 1995 and heard about Habitat for Humanity from a co-worker. Wanting to get out of the apartment he, his wife and two kids were stuck in, Gil signed up and the Garcias were approved for a house.

They said they love their new house and their new neighborhood. All of the Habitat for Humanity houses are unique and set among a tranquil forest setting on Snoqualmie Ridge.

"It's very quiet out here," Gil said. "It's like living in the country."

But there are still some things to get used to. Maria is unsure how safe the area is, even if it is peaceful and quiet. The Garcias grew up in the countryside of the Philippines where they didn't have to lock their doors at night and worried little about the safety of their children.

"If something happens to the kids outside, no one would be able to see them," Maria said.

The frenzied rush to build the neighborhood has died down, and the neighbors don't talk as much as they once did now that things have settled. Although Seattle and Bellevue have Filipino communities, there are not that many living in Snoqualmie, and Maria admits to missing a sense of community her previous home had.

"I turn on the radio sometimes just to hear some noise," Maria said.

The Garcias are committed to Snoqualmie, though. Their kids are happy and they have what they thought they never would: a house in America.

"How you look at life just depends on how you live," Maria said. "This is our home now."

Right across the street from the Garcias are the Dergachevs, a family of four from Ukraine. Although the Dergachevs apologize for their broken English, they are easily understood as they tell how they made their way to America a little more than five years ago with the help of some Christian aid workers.

Sergey and Tatyana met while they were both working at a gold mine in Siberia. They have two children - Sergey, 14, and Olga, 10. Seeking a better life, the Dergachevs made it to Bellevue and settled into an apartment. Sergey tried a couple of jobs but was unable to keep working because he was still learning English.

"It's a very hard language to learn," he said.

He eventually got a job at Phillips on the assembly line, while Tatyana became a caregiver for the Department of Social and Health Services. Further perseverance landed them an approval on their Habitat for Humanity application.

"God helped us and blessed us," Tatyana said.

The Dergachevs think of themselves as more American now. Olga, who remembers very little of Ukraine except her favorite playground, speaks the best English of the family and finds it more difficult to speak Russian. The children are doing well at school, and the family is at home in its new house and country.

"We pray for the country a lot," Tatyana said. "It's a hard time in America right now, but we are praying for it."

Both the Dergachevs and Garcias said they did what they did as much for their children as for themselves. Coming to America was a dream for a better life, but it was also an investment.

"I might go back to Russia someday to visit, but I want to stay in America," the younger Sergey said. "I like everything about it."

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