The COVID-19 global pandemic is disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities. For many immigrant communities who face digital and technological divides and do not have access to in-language information, weathering life during the crisis response involves overcoming many barriers.

Seattle’s Vietnamese-American community has been receiving help from Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối to navigate this pandemic crisis. Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối is a nonprofit organization in Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood with the mission to empower Vietnamese-Americans’ social adjustment, family stability, and self-sufficiency while nurturing community service and youth leaders.

Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối has a 26-year history of providing essential and culturally-responsive services to Vietnamese community. It has become a trusted source for information. So, when it became acutely apparent that their clients would struggle with basic needs related to COVID-19 — such as in-language public health recommendations, unemployment resources, referrals to food and rental assistance, access to transportation and stable housing — Helping Link responded urgently.   

Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối executive director Minh-Duc Nguyen said they have adapted to the pandemic by providing services through a bilingually staffed phone bank that operates remotely (Helping Link’s phone bank can be reached at 206-568-5160). They are also exploring ways of teaching ESL & technology remotely.

Most of Helping Link’s clients are over age 45 — many over age 60 — with limited English language proficiency. Many are low-income residents, including those without health insurance.

Nguyen described a need to address disparities in how COVID-19 has affected people in different ways: “We’re all in the same boat right now with the pandemic, but the boat is different for you and for those who face the barriers of technology and income. Many of us have the capacity to go through this being healthy, being informed. But for people without access to technology or information in their own language, it’s like living in a bubble. It’s hard to digest what’s happening and what’s going on.”

Nguyen said that for many in the Vietnamese community, this sense of going through a crisis without information is often compounded by past trauma. “Talking to clients through the Help Line, it’s opened my eyes to understand that there’s a lot we take for granted,” Nguyen said. “Some people are receiving their stimulus checks and are so afraid to cash it. They’re afraid the administration will report them if they’re using social services. That’s what [the president of the United States] talked about last year, that he was going to deport people who are a burden to the government. I tell them to go ahead and cash the check. Because many of our older clients lived communism, now, 45 years later, their fear of government still haunts them.”

Nguyen hopes that in future emergency information transmissions, civic leaders would be cognizant of being contextually and culturally appropriate in their communications.  

Nguyen says that Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối receives calls to their help line from as early as 6 in the morning to 11 at night.

Through the information and referral services offered, Helping Link’s phone bank is increasingly fielding requests for support by members of the community who rely on the local gig-economy, particularly in the restaurant and nail salon industries and by families who rely on meals provided in schools. 

Nguyen said that she has been inspired to see the mobilization of the Chinatown International District and Little Saigon neighborhoods to support the community.

“With everybody pulling in to help the CID-Little Saigon restaurants to stay alive, it’s demonstrated that we have the power to lend a hand, we are human beings,” Nguyen said. “It’s also important that families can access and ask for support to be able to get their needs met.” 

Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối is currently part of GiveBIG, a fundraiser that culminates in a 48-hour public campaign on May 5 and 6 to help nonprofits. This year’s GiveBIG is especially important to smaller nonprofit organizations for their connections to the community and because they do not have the same resources as larger nonprofits to weather difficult economic periods. Donations to support Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối can be made now through May 6 at via www.givebigwa.org/helping-link or by visiting http www.helpinglink.org/donate

Nguyen said about supporting Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối  during GiveBig: “It will help us to expand our reach to the people who are contributing to our society and trying to navigate through this pandemic. Our community is very strong and our community is resilient. Our temples and churches and people that belong to that circle, they are all helping.”

The Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối phone bank can be reached at 206-568-5160. Volunteers are the backbone of Helping Link with a variety of skills welcomed. If you’d like to join them, here’s the link to their website www.helpinglink.org

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