Wilder Recognition Dinner

By Amy Doeun

On Friday, September 21st,, Hmong Professionals attended a special fundraising dinner at the Wilder Foundation. This is the 4th year that such a dinner has been held.

Eight years ago, Dr. MayKao Hang became the CEO of Wilder. She had been involved with Wilder for years before that. She said of the organization, “Wilder is an organization that changes to respond to community needs.” But at the time that Hang became CEO, the staff at the organization did not reflect the communities it served. “There are now, 50% people of color [working here]. 20% are Asian American; that has changed a lot since I came into this role. When I came there was one licensed mental health professional who was a person of color. I have been working really hard here to reflect the community and how it is changing.”

Another area she would like to see become more inclusive is the donors to Wilder, “The Hmong Community and Southeast Asian community in general have received a lot of help, but very few people give us donations from that community. 46% of our clients were Asian American. Fewer than 5% of our donors are Asian American. I want to change that.”

And so the Hmong Professionals Dinner was born. Hang said of her community, “The communities that we are living in, though people have been very generous, we need to pay it forward. We need to volunteer and give to those that are still being left behind.”

“We have a strong cultural identity and resilience. But we need to counter negative stereotypes. There are a lot of stereotypes about refugees just taking from the system, and that totally isn’t true. We want to raise visibility of the professionals in our community and share the great work of the foundation, share the support, we have changed and we would like you to come along on this journey with us. This dinner is about saying, ‘Look what we could accomplish together. Come and be engaged in more meaningful activities so we can change lives today and in the generations to come. We don’t just talk about changing and equity we are actually doing it.’”

She added, “For me personally, as a Hmong professional, we are still a relatively young community. This event is about building community, doing something significant and doing something greater then ourselves. We want to instill pride and visibility for all the communities we service. We would love to do this for more communities and we do.”

“It is time to join hands and help. We can’t do this work alone and we are doing awesome work and the stories are amazing.”

Mary Her is the clinical supervisor and therapist in Wilder’s school based program – Hlub Zoo. She explained that is a collaboration between Wilder and St. Paul Public Schools. This particular project started 8 years ago, but Wilder has been working in the schools for over 30 years.

Her said, “Mental health is not something that is talked about in our community especially among children. Our history of trauma and war we have a higher risk of having a mental illness. Then there are acculturation barriers, family trauma that increase the risk of having a mental health issue. There were a few resources, not sensitive to the needs of Hmong families.”

“When we started this program it was difficult at first. We wanted to be accepting and not be shaming for the families receiving it and have an effective program. We started as more of a support program from the girls, not a full program to diagnoses kids, as time went on we began to see ways that we could provide treatment at school that would be culturally appropriate and sensitive. I have seen families and children going through difficult times and come out well at the end.”

But Her said that one key to being able to continue offering services to families is for families that need care to access it. “If families don’t access them then we loose funding and when families need it they are not available.”

She feels one key to the success of Hlub Zoo has been that it is imbedded in the schools and has a relationship with kids and teachers.

She described what a mentally healthy family might look like, “A family that is functioning well is that they are able to work through the stressors – financial stressors, homelessness, grieving, stressors around supporting the child in his or her process finding healing – things like that and to see them be able to manage well. They have stability in the future and are managing their feelings and reactions.”

She shared the story of one family whose child was being bullied at school. The mother sought help. “They took the initiative to say she needs help and services. That child is better with it.”

Dr. Pahoua Yang is the Vice President of Wilder Community Mental Health and Wellness. She said, “I entered this field because I noticed the amount of suffering in our community and I wanted to help other people.” When asked if she felt like she had enough tools to reach her goals she said, “We never have enough tools. But I have more than I used to.”

Even in her own family Yang said that there is often misconceptions about her work. She said that she would be asked, “What kind of people come to Wilder? Last year I ran into a person distantly related to me who had asked me that same question years ago. Now they were in need of help. I always tell my family they are just like all of us. There is a lot of stress and trauma. It is not concrete like going to a doctor.”

This relative has now told her, “I didn’t realize at the time that this place is for people like me who need help.”

She added, “Sometimes it is hard for people to imagine the work.” But thanks to the hard work of people at Wilder and community support when you need help it is there.