Hmong association helps break barriers in Chippewa Valley

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – There’s a vast array of local organizations that reach out, give back and influence the community. One of them is a local non-profit that's been around for more than 30 years.

From breaking language barriers to pioneering roads to education and jobs, the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association is helping both refugees and Hmong families who simply choose to call the Chippewa Valley home.

Take for instance, Houa Thao. She is a mother of six and spoke to us through a translator. It’s a clear demonstration of the biggest barrier for Hmong families – language.

“Basically she comes here for everything, from letters if she can't because she doesn’t know how to read, she'll bring it and we'll translate it for her, if she needs food and she's running low on funding, she comes here for rice pantry and she also comes for paper work for St. Francis Food Pantry,” translated Chue Xiong. Houa said she has city housing but the association helped fill out her paperwork.

Pa Thao, the executive director of ECAHMAA said language proves to be a barrier for those with a home too because communication with a landlord can often be difficult.

Pa said many people walk through her office’s doors every day. Some are looking for rental units through the office. The association owns several housing units and rents it out on an income basis. Others come in to find a job. There’s a job board on one of the walls in the office and the association helps future employees fill applications out.

Pa said the Hmong population has reached over 3,000 in the Chippewa Valley. That is double what the population was in 2007. It’s also another reason why now more than ever, the association is needed.

The non-profit provides key services to the Hmong community including “family strengthening” which is a domestic violence program. Victims and survivors come in and seek services. The association then coordinates with local agencies and also offers legal advocacy.

“It is tough because the Hmong community, we're also close knit within our own clans and within our own families. So for someone to come out and seek help outside their family, we know when they do that it's like their last resort,” said Pa.

Education is also offered on tobacco and smoking. Pa said it is common to use tobacco as a gift when a bride gets married. The long-standing history of using tobacco may keep people from being aware of the consequences of tobacco, drug or alcohol use, she said.

“I think now that we've transitioned from a refugee population into Hmong Americans, education comes out to be one of the high priorities of kids now days,” said Pa.

The association has partnered with UW-Eau Claire in a mentoring program. The group will meet weekly on Wednesdays to do homework and other educational activities. Pa said the Boy Scouts of America also does leadership training with the students.

Coming this May, there’s a 2nd annual Hmong graduation event, designed to congratulate graduates and help parents and students understand higher education is possible.

“A lot of times when parents who don't speak English, they can't just call the school and ask what do I need to help my students with. They can't stay as engaged in their students’ academic lives, if they weren’t more sufficient at English,” said Pa.

But like many non-profits, the Hmong association thrives on donations and grants. That’s something the organization said it could always use more of, so families like Houa's can lead self-sufficient lives.

“She works right now at CDC but there are no benefits or anything like that so she would like the association to get more grants and funding so we can help with job search and job placement,” said Xiong, translating for Houa.

If you'd like to help the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, they are looking for volunteers as well as donations:

Phone: (715)832-8420
Fax: (715)832-0612
Address: 423 Wisconsin Street Eau Claire, WI 54703

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