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2nd Annual Spring Friendraiser with Dr. Loi Dang-Nguyen; Taste Latino at El Carnicero

On Thursday, April 27th, our first event took us to the Ariel International Center where we attended the 2nd Annual "Spring Friendraiser" put on by "Asian Services In Action, Inc." (ASIA). As we have written before, it is the mission of ASIA to "to empower and advocate for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI's); and to provide AAPI's and other communities access to quality, culturally, and linguistically appropriate information, health, and social services."

We had an excellent luncheon composed salad, tofu, and rice and had time to get acquainted with such people as Dr. Regan L. Silvestri, Asst. Professor in the Division of Science and Mathematics at Lorain Community College who works with Asian Services on its summer science programs; Mr. Tyler Reid, Director of Worksite Benefits, at "The O'Neill Group" who assists ASIA with their insurance needs; and Mr. Mike Bacon who teaches ESL in the Akron area to such groups as "Visiting Scholars from China." We especially enjoyed riding the elevator to the banquet room with Ms. Thu Ai Nguyen who was there representing her husband, Mr. Minh Ngo who is ASIA's finance director.

Today the keynote speaker was Dr. Loi Dang-Nguyen who came to the United States who has been employed by the Akron Public Schools for over twenty years and is now a learning specialist for ESL and foreign language. As her description in the program notes read, she "was a University Honors Scholar and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1995. In 1996, she achieved a Master's degree in Elementary Administration, and in 2003 she graduated with a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Akron.

Dr. Dang-Nguyen came to the U.S. in 1975 as a Vietnamese refugee and on this day she shared with us the story of how she and her family; consisting of herself, her parents and 11 siblings; escaped Vietnam. She went into great detail describing the period of time between March and July of 1975 when Tam-Ky (where she and family lived and her father, a minister, oversaw an orphanage composed of 200 youngsters) fell to the North Vietnamese and how her family along with the orphans fled to Da-Nang. Sadly, they had to leave the orphans behind there but they were in the care of responsible church people who promised to take care of them. From there, her family was transported to Saigon except for her father and sister who were separated temporarily separated from them but, thankfully, were able to join them in a few days.

On April 27, 1975 (exactly 42 years from this date) Dr. Dang-Nguyen's family left Vietnam for good and were first transported to the Phillippines and then to Guam where they learned that a church in Akron would sponsor them to come to the U.S. Thus they arrived in Florida and stayed for a few days at a refugee camp there. Finally, on July 3, 1975 they landed at Cleveland-Hopkins Airport and a new chapter in their lives.

Dr. Dang-Nguyen's family settled in Akron and while both parents took humble jobs they raised their children to respect education and to serve others. Of course, it took a while for all of them to adjust to the culture and to learn English (they were helped immeasurably by the Akron Public Schools) but they, nevertheless, excelled. At this time, all twelve children have earned BA's and, in addition, there are 7 Master's degrees; 3 Ph.D.'s; and 3 M.D. physicians!

Several times during her presentation, Dr. Dan-Nguyen made use of this quote by former U.S. President George W. Bush, "immigration is not just a link to America's past; it's also a bridge to America's future."

It was especially poignant when Dr. Dang-Nguyen described her parents' recent trip to Vietnam (their first visit since 1975) and how relieved they were to find out that the orphans that they had to leave behind were in all right. She said that this was "closure" for them, particularly to her father who always felt responsible for them.

During the Q and A, Dr. Dang-Nguyen mentioned how much the ESL program in Akron has grown over the past few years. She also talked about how her sister (who is a teacher in the Akron School District) was once queried by about how much she "made" at her job. She replied that she helped to "make" students learn and feel safe in the school environment as well as to strive for their dreams. In short she "made" a difference in children's lives.

After Dr. Dang-Nguyen completed her compelling and inspiring talk, Mr. Michael Byun, the Executive Director at ASIA said that he could certainly relate to a lot of what the doctor was talking about even though, as he noted, he was an immigrant, not a refugee. But, as he went on to say, Dr. Dang-Nguyen's story would certainly ring true with the refugees of today escaping the Congo and Syria.

Later that day we went to "El Carnicero" a restaurant on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood for the annual "Taste Latino" which is a benefit for the "El Barrio Workforce Center" which is a program of "The Centers for Family and Children".

As Ms. Elizabeth Newman, its President and CEO, wrote in a letter that was published in the souvenir booklet:

"For more than two decades, El Barrio, now a core pillar of The Centers for Families and Children's effort to provide life-changing solutions for the most vulnerable members of our community, has partnered with government, business and the philanthropic community to support Northeast Ohio's development pipeline. El Barrio helps individuals obtain employment and provides an escape from the challenges of poverty through its high-quality job training, job readiness support, comprehensive case management services and direct link to employers. Through its two program sites, El Barrio delivers the following:

**Job readiness training in English and Spanish;

**Industry-recognized certification in customer service, hospitality and pharmacy;

**Bridge programs in construction and transportation;

**Support and retention services."

We spent the first part of the evening networking with the other sponsors and attendees. For instance, we told Ms. Lisa King from "Dollar Bank" about the 22nd Annual Hispanic Leadership Conference and Gala which we plan to attend on Saturday at Lorain Community College. We also encountered Mr. Joseph Amschlinger who we recognized, and he recognized us too, but we couldn't exactly figure out from where; we finally decided that we attended the same fundraiser for earthquake victims.

Later in the evening, Ms. Newman gave some welcoming remarks and Ms. Ingrid Angel, Director of El Barrio, presented awards to "Aramark" as the "El Barrio Corporate Partner of the Year" which was accepted by Ms. Nicole Prihoda, its HR/Recruitment Manager; Ms. LaToya Smith of Fifth-Third Bank received the "El Barrio Amigo Award"; and to Mr. Marc Sanchez, Chair-El Barrio Board of Directors, as the "El Barrio Volunteer of the Year" for his 20 years of service to the organization.

After the ceremonies, we talked to Ms. Angel and learned that each Friday Ms. Smith conducts a workshop for those in need of El Barrio's help and really works with these people to build up their self esteem.

We have been attending this "Taste Latino" for at least the last two years and many of the El Barrio/Centers for Families and Children's staff members recognized us. Ms. Melissa Russoniello, El Barrio's Operations Manager, even walked across the room to say hello to us.

In addition, we spent a few minutes talking to Ms. Jeanne Romanoff, Director of Board Engagement and Events, about how El Barrio has been a tremendous asset to immigrants over the years particularly by teaching them "soft skills" like writing resumes and how to conduct themselves during job interviews.

Along these lines, we spoke to Ms. Dorothy Perez who runs the front desk at El Barrio who confirmed that many immigrants from such places as Africa, Nigeria, Germany, and Brazil are eager to take advantage of the services that El Barrio has to offer.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC