Helping Link 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 was started in 1993 after executive director Minh-Duc Nguyen, also one of its founders, took a trip back home to Vietnam. Through the extreme poverty she witnessed, she saw the strength, dignity and initiative of the locals to survive. Inspired, she came back to Seattle determined to help new Vietnamese immigrants in Seattle.
“I came back to Seattle with a burning vision to help all the new members of our community recapture their dignity, initiative and ability to support themselves as Vietnamese Americans,” Nguyen said.
Twenty-five years later, Helping Link’s core programs include English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, technology classes (iPad and basic computer classes with bilingual curriculum developed by Helping Link), citizenship classes and information and referral services.
Helping Link’s immigrant and refugee clients face many challenges starting over in a new country with a new language and no support. Learning English instills confidence in adults to go grocery shopping, make doctor appointments, apply to jobs, meet with their children’s teachers, and connect with their neighbors and coworkers. Learning how to use Skype allows a grandmother to stay in touch with her grandchildren, citizenship program empowers clients to become U.S. citizens, and referral services allow clients to become more informed about the systems they live and work in.
“[Helping Link] was my first home, it helped me become who I am. Helping Link is where I started my life in America,” said Kathy Doan, a past student and tutor who joined Helping Link in 1997 as a high school student as part of Helping Link’s summer youth program. She and other young people at the time worked to develop a Vietnamese community webpage. After the summer program, Doan continued for six years at Helping Link as an instructor for computer classes for adults and seniors and as a tutor for youth.
Doan is currently a senior application analyst at UW Medical Center’s IT services. She has a masters in IT, and undergraduate degrees in biology and biochemistry.
“Learning and volunteering at Helping Link aided my spoken English skills because I was really shy … when I first joined Helping Link,” Doan said. “Teaching bilingual computer classes helped me reinforce my Vietnamese skills. I reference back to my experiences there when I explain computer-related issues to customers. Helping Link connected me to the local Vietnamese community. I made friends, went out on field trips and got to engage with the community through volunteering at Helping Link. I helped other new refugees get situated in Seattle. I also introduced my mother to Helping Link’s services.”
Lieu Nguyen is a former English as a Second Language (ESL) student at Helping Link. She moved to Seattle from Cần Thơ, South Vietnam in 2015.
“I wanted to learn English so I could find a good job and better opportunities for my family,” Lieu said. “I saw an announcement for Helping Link’s free ESL classes in the newspapers. I joined Helping Link together with my son. I enrolled in ESL classes, and my oldest son joined Helping Link’s Homework Help program. My son is now a Rainier Scholar in middle school.”
Lieu said Helping Link’s bilingual classes and teachers made her feel comfortable and confident in learning English.
“Before I joined Helping Link, I did not speak any English,” Lieu said. “It was hard to get around or find employment. Now I can communicate in Seattle. I found a job, I help my son with his homework, I also help my family members with their English.”
Tracy Thao Ho is a former ESL student and currently an English language student at Seattle Central College.
“I first came to Seattle from Saigon in 2016 to visit my mother,” Ho said. “I wanted to learn English, but I could not afford to pay for a class. My dream was always to go to Seattle Central College but when I first moved, I did not have a green card and could not apply for a job or register with any schools. My neighbor recommended me to Helping Link and I enrolled in their ESL classes the same year. Helping Link was the first ‘school’ I joined in the U.S.”
Ho said she didn’t know how to take public transportation, so she walked to Helping Link every night for classes. She said the volunteers and classmates were supportive and that the teachers gave her the confidence to study English every day.
“Now I am much more confident, I can go shopping, I can travel,” Ho said. “I can find a job, I can speak to anyone. I tell everyone I know about Helping Link, I have such nice memories of my time in Helping Link.”
Helping Link is holding its 25th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, November 3, 2018 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Tukwila Community Center (12424 42nd Avenue South Tukwila, WA 98168). For tickets and more information, visit www.helpinglink.org/events/25th-anniversary-celebration.