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Agency aims to empower immigrants

Published 10/22/2011 in Local News : United Way

Editor's note: This is the 17th in a series of stories highlighting the 21 agencies to receive United Way's annual campaign funds. The next article will run in Tuesday's edition of The Telegram.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

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Laurie Sisk/Telegram Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Director Shelly Dinh assists client Thanh Thi Tran on Friday at the agency's office in East Garden Village.

Laurie Sisk/Telegram Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Director Shelly Dinh assists client Thanh Thi Tran on Friday at the agency's office in East Garden Village.

Many immigrants who come to Garden City are doing so for the opportunities that are unavailable in their countries. However, it often is difficult for them to acclimate to their new surroundings. The norms that they are accustomed to in their home countries can contrast with the norms that they must adapt to in the U.S.

It is for this reason that Shelly Dinh is driven to help these newcomers. Through the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association, Dinh provides support and guidance to immigrants, with everything from preparing them for American citizenship to operating washers and dryers, which are brand new forms of technology for many.

"I work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which are our office hours, but sometimes people come to my house any time between 6 to 8 p.m.," Dinh said. "They come to my house, or they need me to drive to their house or whatever, I still help them. I don't know how many hours I work, but I really like helping them."

Dinh speaks English and Vietnamese, but according to Consuelo Sandoval, executive director of Finney County United Way, she goes above and beyond.

"She fills out a lot of employment applications for anyone who walks in, because even if they don't speak English or Vietnamese, they hand her the application and they communicate and people know what to give her as far as ID and things like that or help them fill out to get services connected to the city. She really is helping all races with a variety of services," Sandoval said.

She added that Dinh's efforts go beyond providing these services, as well.

"She's there to help people, and not just help them, but really empower them," Sandoval said. "She's doing a lot of things within her agency that's not just 'a let me do it for you.' She's showing people how to do things for themselves."

The Finney County United Way provides the bulk of the nonprofit organization's funding and is critical in the operation of its services. Sandoval said that they are providing the organization with $20,000 this year.

"Without United Way, I cannot do nothing — we need the money from United Way. It's almost 100 percent that I got," Dinh said. "We try to do some fundraising, but it doesn't help very much."

The office is located in the East Garden Village, at 4101 E. U.S. Highway 50, where Dinh also provides Saturday classes, one of which aims to help teenagers steer clear of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

"We have a drug and alcohol class for all the children and all the parents, and we try to teach them about drinking and driving and all the drugs, which are very bad for these children," Dinh said. "We also try to get the parents involved in how to get the children to enroll in after school activities so they can stay busy."

The other class held on Saturdays is designed to teach immigrants English, American history and the steps they need to take in order to become American citizens.

Dinh has demonstrated her contributions to the community in a variety of ways, one of which is in translating and assisting immigrants with the necessary paperwork to obtain employment, primarily through Tyson Fresh Meats of Holcomb.

"Because she's established — a lot of it's word of mouth — she's really good with the Asian population," Sandoval said. "When we go to Tyson, she's just really valuable to us because she speaks Vietnamese and people trust her."

The Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association has been in existence in 1989. Dinh has been contributing her time to the organization since 2001 and hopes to eventually be able to do even more. Because she is only able to pay one part-time staff member for two hours of work per day, she relies on other volunteers in the community to assist her.

"Because I am only by myself, I can't afford to do everything. That means I need help," Dinh said. "I need everybody in the community to help, to donate to the United Way so the United Way can help me even more and I can do better for the Garden City community as a whole."

Other agencies that will benefit from the 2012 United Way funds are: Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association

Director: Shelly Dinh

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Address: 4101 E. U.S. Highway 50

Phone: 275-2261

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