United Way agency helps immigrants settle in to new lives

10/5/2013

Editor's note:This is the ninth in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.

Editor's note:This is the ninth in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.

By KAMIL ZAWADZKI

kzawadzki@gctelegram.com

Finney County United Way funding is crucial for at least one local community agency to keep its doors open.

United Way money makes up most of the budget for the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association to serve Garden City's southeast Asian immigrant population.

And with the local southeast Asian refugee population still growing, Executive Director Shelly Dinh and her organization are still needed.

"This year, about three months, we got about seven families, about 25 people right now, coming to the United States," she said. "And my job is to try to help other newcomers coming and show them whatever they need."

United Way money goes a long way for the association, housed at the East Garden Village community building at 4101 E. U.S. Highway 50, Ste. A, to provide services. For 2014, the organization is getting $20,000 from United Way, less than last year's figure of $22,250. But every dollar people can donate on their own helps make a difference, Dinh said.

"Without United Way, we cannot open," she said. "Some people will donate for us — dollar, fifty cents. Every bit helps."

Her work involves helping new immigrants from southeast Asia acclimate to their new lives in Garden City, including finding housing and helping them with household appliances they may never have had access to in their native countries.

"We show them how to use the stuff inside the house, because in our country, they don't have stuff like in America," she said.

Dinh also helps new immigrants apply for whatever benefits they need, file Social Security papers and secure jobs — often at Tyson Fresh Meats in Holcomb. She checks in with her charges and their employers after 90 days to see how they're adjusting to their new environments.

Education is also a key part of the services the association offers — for both the children and their parents. She helps adults learn basic English so they can communicate at work or when shopping for groceries; and she helps kids learn their native languages when she can (she speaks Vietnamese) so they can remain in touch with their culture. And when their kids say something new in Vietnamese, she said, parents call her to share the news.

"That is wonderful," she said. "When we hear that, we're really proud of it. We have something."

Eventually, Dinh winds up helping the migrants apply for U.S. citizenship and prepare for the naturalization tests, and feels pride when the people she helps succeed and become citizens.

"So far we've had 10 and they all passed," she said, smiling. "So far, so good!"

Dinh enjoys her work at the association, and it shows in the time she devotes to her clients beyond her office hours.

"My cell phone — I never turn it off," she said. "Anytime they need help, they call me, (even) night time. I really like it. I enjoy my job."

So with such a tight budget and a constant need after-hours, why does she keep doing it?

"I look at them, I see my mom," she said. "I want to help."

The local United Way is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. The goal for 2014 is $560,000, which is $10,000 more than last year.

The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council — Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains — CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital — Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission — Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.

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