Member Spotlight: Helping Link – Supporting an Immigrant Community with ESL and iPads

April 10, 2019

When you move to a new country with a different language, you take an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. But where do you sign up for a class that teaches the new language of culture? This is when a nonprofit organization that knows the languages and community involved can make a huge impact.

Generations of comprehensive support

Helping Link, or Một Dấu Nối, was originally created to serve the waves of Vietnamese refugees resettling in Washington State under the Humanitarian Program for Former Political Detainees. Twenty-five years later, they have a thriving inter-generational, cross-cultural community. The key to their long vitality as a nonprofit: they’re a one-stop shop, working to address the barriers specific to the Vietnamese population that they serve.

Helping Link maintains ESL, computer classes, citizenship, information and referral as the basis of their mission to help the newly resettled. But they also know the importance of helping their clients understand their utility bills, rent, the public school system, bus passes, grocery stores, and all the basics of navigating life in a new country. They recognize the importance of increasing public awareness and appreciation of Vietnamese culture and contributions made by the local Vietnamese community. They created the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Festival at Seattle Center in 1997, and the festival continues as a beloved cultural event today, thanks to the efforts of multiple generations.

How the iPad is changing the game

Minh Đức Phạm Nguyễn, Executive Director and sole staff member at Helping Link, explains how one piece of technology was a game changer for their services: the iPad. Their clients use iPads to take pictures from their lives and easily share them with friends and family back home in Vietnam. This feeling of connection decreases the isolation that comes when you move to a new country far from your home.

One of the best parts of an iPad is how intuitive it is to use. The lack of multiple buttons makes it much easier to learn how to use. The older generation doesn’t have to depend on a child or grandchild to teach them how to operate it. It’s fairly affordable, and the user can use it to access Youtube tutorials, furthering their independence and building a sense of confidence. It also helps that iPads come with solitaire on it, a familiar game. Once people start playing solitaire on an iPad, they become accustomed to using the device and it takes away intimidation of learning an unfamiliar tool.

Minh Đức shares some insights learned from working with an immigrant community:

  • Sometimes you will serve a client for decades. When an immigrant or refugee first arrives to their new home, they often have to jump into their new life quickly. Some people will take two or three entry-level jobs. They don’t necessarily have the time to learn a new language and become independent. and they will need long term assistance.
  • Vietnamese people are very resilient. They want to be part of what’s going on and to participate in society. Through opportunities provided by Helping Link, their clients have the chance to engage in cultural experiences that they might not otherwise. A nice dinner at a restaurant or a visit to a museum can help them envision a better life for themselves and encourage them to strive towards their goals. Being taken out to a restaurant can be a huge deal, especially if they are working in there service industry at a restaurant. They are treated like the guest and feel respected.
  • Helping Link practices advocacy on many levels. They advocate to their community, telling them about important issues that affect them. And they advocate to the larger community, educating others about the Vietnamese community in the Puget Sound and the immigrant experience.
  • Ethnic-specific organizations don’t receive automatic trust like white-led organizations. They have to prove themselves. DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) is a hot topic in the nonprofit sector these days, but the important part is actually practicing it to ensure every organization is respected.
  • Helping Link is a stepping stone. They utilize community partnerships to get their clients to the next step. After their clients master English and technology skills, they can enroll in a job training program at Goodwill. The one stop shop model helps them move forward to greater success.

Volunteers are the “heart and soul” of Helping Link. Volunteer orientations are held on the third Thursday of the month for those interested in contributing to the cause!

 Helping Link/Một Dấu Nối works to empower Vietnamese-Americans’ social adjustment, family stability, and self sufficiency. They are based in Seattle in the International District. Their website is They have been a Washington Nonprofits member since 2019.

In our monthly Member Spotlight, Washington Nonprofits features members who are doing something worth sharing. It can be a best practice, implementation of a new idea, or something that may help others to tackle a challenge. Do you have a story that you would like to share? Contact us! We would love to hear from you.

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