It began with a trip to Vietnam in 1993. Minh-Duc Nguyen, who had emigrated from Vietnam to the Puget Sound area as young girl, returned to her birthplace of Saigon, Vietnam as a young adult, meeting relatives and witnessing the challenges still faced by the people living there. Nguyen was determined to find a way to help refugees and immigrants moving from Vietnam to the Puget Sound area. This vision inspired her to found Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối, a non-profit that helps Vietnamese immigrants and Vietnamese-Americans to develop the vital skills needed to thrive in their new country.
Over the past 25 years, Nguyen has built an impressive community of financial supporters and volunteers that have enabled Helping Link to assist more than 25,000 people. Helping Link’s clients have gained essential skills and found opportunity in the Puget Sound area, while celebrating and sharing Vietnamese culture with the region and the local community. On Saturday night November 3, over 200 supporters of Helping Link gathered at the Tukwila Community Center to celebrate the 25th anniversary of an organization that has opened the doors to opportunity for so many via English, citizenship and technology classes as well as other resources such as advocacy, finding employment, coordinating healthcare and access to housing, connecting clients with mentors and neighbors, and more.
In welcoming remarks, Board President Christina Davidson noted that many people underestimate how critical English language skill is to gaining citizenship. Client Lieu Nguyen, who moved from Vietnam to the United States in 2015 and has attended English lessons at Helping Link, courageously demonstrated her new skills in a public address that attested to the transformative impact that Helping Link has had on her life.
The importance of organizations like Helping Link for fostering community connections and for teaching appreciation of diverse cultures was made clear by the number of young people who supported the event, some of whom are children of early Helping Link clients and volunteers. One second-generation Helping Link community member is renowned chef Thanh Tang, who catered the menu of Vietnamese street food and offered one of the Grand Prize gifts of a private dinner for eight. Twenty-two students from the University of Washington’s Vietnamese Student Association helped host the event, while youth from GDPT dance troupe of Van Hanh temple and elders from Ngoc Tuyet dance group performed traditional Vietnamese routines. Community sponsors, including Low Income Housing Institute, The Seattle Globalist, Alaska Airlines, Macrina Bakery & Cafe, UPS, Sound Transit, Community Health Plan of Washington, Amerigroup, Seattle Children’s, City University, Plymouth Housing, Thach Real Estate Group, Kin On and Swedish Medical Center and more participated in the celebration.
Nguyen, a founder and the Executive Director of the Helping Link, expressed thanks to the volunteers and contributors to the organization over the years. She recognized Jim Diers and Eunice Letzing with a Special Advocate Award for their advocacy in strengthening diversity and opportunities in the community, especially for organizations like Helping Link. In addition, Atlantic Street Center, City of Seattle Dept of Neighborhoods, Neighbor to Neighbor, Seattle Public Library, Southwest Youth & Family Services, and Social Justice Fund Northwest were recognized with an Early Champion Award for tremendous support during Helping Link’s beginning. David Okimoto was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a leader in the non-profit community for the past 45 years, who is committed to building future leaders of color, and as executive director was instrumental in pairing Atlantic Street Center as the first fiscal sponsor of Helping Link. Okimoto also served as the Executive Director of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service and as Senior Vice President of United Way of King County. Nguyen expressed her deepest thanks for Okimoto’s mentorship, leadership, and without his support Helping Link wouldn’t be the organization it is today.
Helping Link continues to be a pillar in the Vietnamese community and a sought-after resource for connecting clients to opportunities via social services and job opportunities. It is also recognized for creating an empowering multicultural community by strengthening intergenerational and ethnic ties between diverse groups. Helping Link continues to provide weekly ESL, citizenship and computer classes as well as information and referral services. To learn more about Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối and how you can help, see www.helpinglink.org.