By Lou Harned, guest writer for CNNC
The UNCG Center for New North Carolinians neighborhood community centers provide a springboard to success for refugees. The Glen Haven Community Center, now celebrating its 15th year, is a shining example.
So is Vung Ksor.
Vung, CNNC’s Refugee Health Coordinator, vows Glen Haven transformed her life.
“As a new arrival, I would want to have someone like me to connect the family,” she says.
Arriving as refugees from Vietnam to Greensboro in 2005 proved difficult for Vung’s family. As Montagnards, Vung’s family is part of a group of people from the Highlands of Vietnam who fought alongside the U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. For decades afterward, they faced punitive treatment by the government. Vung’s father along with hundreds of other men fled Vietnam to escape ethnic and religious persecution. He sought asylum in Cambodia and came to America, where his family later joined him. Because Vung’s father was already here, Vung and her mother and sister had no contact with resettlement agencies when they arrived.
“There were no resources that we knew of in the community,” she says. At age thirteen, Vung lived with her family in a tiny apartment with no heat. As with most refugees, the language barrier proved a potent obstacle for necessities such as enrolling in school or even procuring a small space heater.
Vung says her life was transformed when they relocated to the Glen Haven apartment complex. Staff and volunteers at the community center offered critical services including tutoring, art, cultural activities, organized groups, and vital socialization. Vung and her sister treasured their time at the center.
“It was like my second home! I felt less isolated,” says Vung.
Glen Haven bridged the gap between the faraway life where Vung began and that of a completely new country, language, culture, climate, school and home.
Growing up in Vietnam, school was not available to her until the age of ten, when she joined a newly-established government kindergarten in her village. Her mother sold evergreen shrubs, also known as Indian Laurel, which enabled them to buy school supplies. So strong was Vung’s desire to learn, she didn’t mind standing out as the oldest student in her kindergarten class.
The village had no running water – no electricity. Her mother depended on Vung’s help foraging for food, carrying water, hiking to distant mountains for bamboo, cooking the family meals, and caring for her sister.
Years later in America, Vung’s perseverance would pay off as she spent approximately three years learning English when she first arrived. By the time she was a junior in High School she was confident enough to apply for college. Her hard work and drive earned her scholarships and a degree from Guilford College in 2017.
She is quick to credit the community center with her success. “Glen Haven changed everything!” she says.
She aspired to be a nurse. However, her time during college as a Bonner Scholar student volunteering with the Newcomer School and the Glen Haven Center steered her instead toward serving refugee communities. She was passionate about providing the same support and encouragement she once received. She joined the CNNC staff in 2017.
“This job is crucial,” Vung stresses. “Even people who have been here since the late 1980s still have many needs.”
In her staff role, Vung works as a liaison between refugees’ medical needs and health care resources. The CNNC Immigrant Health Access Project’s staff of seven makes referrals, provides interpreters for 15 different languages, assists with Orange Card enrollment for the uninsured, and helps manage appointments and follow-up care. The Cone Health Foundation funds the project, which principally collaborates with Cone Community Health and Wellness, Cone Internal Medicine, Renaissance Family Medicine, and the Cone Congregational Nurse program.
“This is a great resource for immigrants, refugees and providers. It’s a blessing that I’m back here doing what I love to do!”