Immigrant finds a home providing homes for elderly

By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC

WSBDC-LOGOFERNDALE, Wash. – As an immigrant from Ethiopia, Bizu Getachew depended on housekeeping and caregiving work “for survival” when she moved to Seattle in 1996. But while employed at an adult family home, she realized she enjoyed the work and was good at it.

“Why don’t I have my own business?” she wondered.

Today Getachew and her husband, Tsegaye Mekonnen, own two eldercare homes in rural Ferndale, a town of about 11,000 people north of Bellingham, Wash.

Grace Retirement Home is licensed for 12 residents while Grace Adult Family Home is licensed for six.

Support from prayers, business advising

While owning an adult family home was long Getachew’s dream, she recruited her husband to the project after he lost his job in computer programming during the 2008-10 recession.

Bizu Getachew and Tsegaye Mekonnen outside of one of their adult family care homes.

“He has a background in business management, accounting and computers, as well as being an amazing chef – all qualifications that have helped our business flourish,” she said.

Janice Rhode, Getachew’s employer at the adult family home in Seattle, is also on the list of people who helped get the business started.

It is a long list: “Many prayer groups asked the Lord for guidance on my behalf, and God provided many people to help,” Getachew said. They included Fasika Fetne, a fellow countryman who owned an adult family home, and Connie Sprickelman, the real estate agent who guided Getachew through the purchase of her first home.

High on the list, too, is the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Though Getachew discovered its no-cost, confidential advising only a few years ago, the SBDC has been crucial in helping her restructure her business and plan for future growth.

The Washington SBDC ( is a network of more than two dozen certified business advisors who work in communities across the state to help small business owners start, grow or transition a business. The Washington SBDC is hosted by Washington State University and receives major funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBDC office in Bellingham is hosted by Western Washington University.

Honest answers, expansion counsel

Through the housing recession, Getachew and Mekonnen kept their homes going with determination and hard work, but handling the day-to-day finances was stressful.

In 2012, Getachew started meeting with SBDC advisor Wade Stringfield to discuss the purchase of an existing assisted living facility. Stringfield helped her calculate the potential income versus expenses and that helped her decide to pass on the sale.

When Stringfield left the SBDC, Getachew began meeting with SBDC advisor Debra Lee, whom she had met six or seven years earlier when Lee was an instructor at Whatcom Community College and Getachew was taking intensive English language classes. Lee helped with the paperwork to qualify for a SBA 504 loan and Getachew was able to refinance in 2015.

“The paperwork can be overwhelming for anyone,” Lee said, “but for non-native speakers it is particularly stressful.”

Getachew also credits Lee with providing information and resources related to improving business efficiency and exploring international opportunities.

“Any questions I ask, they don’t have any personal interest, they just give me an honest answer,” Getachew said. “I am very thankful to the (SBDC) for this opportunity.”

She continues to work with Lee when she has questions about how to move forward. Expanding to a third adult home is a possibility, but Getachew said she’s looking at other business opportunities as well.

“I want to say from my heart how grateful I am for the opportunities we have had in this country – to own our own business and to care for the infirm,” she said. “We are very blessed.”


Bizu Getachew, Grace Adult Family Homes, 360-510-2732,
Debra Lee, Washington SBDC in Bellingham, Wash., 360-778-1762,



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