At a CARE project community forum. Photo courtesy: the Vietnamese Friendship Association.

Over a year ago, the Seattle non-profit, the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) was awarded grants totaling over $120,000 — an unprecedented amount for a small Vietnamese community agency. The funds were for a special project, meant to help heal divisions and envision a future for the Seattle Vietnamese community not yet experienced.

The Community Action Research and Empowerment (CARE) project was realized by members of the VFA to fulfill this daunting task. It has been a year-long research project that fostered relationships among all groups within the Vietnamese community, one of the most underserved ethnic groups in Seattle.

The VFA offers mentoring, parent advocacy services, tutoring, and summer and after-school programs, as well as cultural enrichment and bridging programs. It’s one of only a few agencies that directly serve immigrants of the Vietnamese community in this way. The other is Helping Link, a volunteer-based organization also in Seattle.

The VFA’s CARE project, a compelling acronym, had one vision in mind: to use the findings from the research project and feedback from Vietnamese community members to help form what the ideal Seattle Vietnamese community could look like in ten years. In turn, the ideation would serve as the blueprint for community development and planning, all in an effort to best serve the current needs of its people and plant roots for its future.

“It is an exciting time for all Vietnamese here in Seattle,” said Kathy Ho, director of the CARE project. “We have found that people have been waiting for something like this to happen; where they could voice their own opinions and concerns and hope for a better future.”

With funding from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods Neighborhood Matching Fund, United Way of King County, and Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N), CARE is unparalleled in its scale and vision.

At the heart of the project is the Youth Action Team (YAT), a group of 18- to 21 year-olds who did the grunt work of coordinating 9 focus groups which revealed what local Vietnamese want in their community. Included in the focus groups were seniors, professionals, other youth, and business owners. A prevailing opinion from participants was the desire for a Vietnamese community center – which would serve as a venue for cultural enrichment, youth programs, events, and senior services, to name only a few. YAT team members also surveyed over three hundred members of the Seattle Vietnamese community, individually interviewing eighty participants. This collection of data will lead to findings, which will be the basis for the ten-year community plan.

From the very beginning, CARE meant to achieve four main goals:

Promote greater civic participation. The Vietnamese are a large local community and many are elderly. Language is a barrier to their participation in civic and cultural activities.

This should not be so, says Verlinda Vu, a member of the YAT project team. Vu says the youth team found that many seniors felt they were never given the opportunity to voice their opinions, and greatly appreciated being asked. “We want people to know that all are important to our community,” said Vu. “This is a forum for everyone’s voice to be heard.”

Foster positive youth development. CARE is also a leadership program for young Vietnamese, the majority of whom were either born or raised in the United States. The project offers the youth an opportunity to connect with their heritage and its legacy in Seattle. The project also gave youth a chance to develop their Vietnamese language abilities and connect with elders, fostering inter-generational communication and relationships.

Provide an opportunity for intergenerational collaboration. CARE aims to cultivate greater understanding among all Vietnamese. The elders’ perspective is rooted in hardship and war, immigrating to a new country with hopes for a better future for themselves and that of their children. The youth, on the other hand, possess new hopes, that deserve equal attention. While there are differing goals, all derived and are inspired from one another. A common vision for a better community unites all.

“It is powerful to see the wall of age gaps break down through this project,” Vu asserts. “We are Vietnamese. We are one.”

Develop a community-based plan and a model that can be used by other communities. While CARE was inspired and conceived initially to study and ultimately benefit the Seattle Vietnamese community, it was also designed to be a model for other communities to replicate. In this way, the project can continue its legacy and plant seeds in other needed communities so their people can flourish.

The Seattle Vietnamese community has called the Emerald City home for more than thirty-five years, but its identity has not been fully realized and its needs not met. Therefore, CARE’s findings, which will be presented at an up-coming final event open to the public, will help realize the community’s vision, put it to paper, and plan for a community that is united in its hopes and ideals. CARE aims to not just showcase, but to lead the way for future generations to find meaning, take action, and build their community.

Join the VFA and CARE project on Friday, Oct. 22 when coordinators will present its findings. Presentation location is at the VFA office, 2100 24th Ave, Seattle, WA 98144 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. It will be a celebration of CARE coming to an end, but it is only a beginning. For more information, go to www.vfaseattle.org.

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