Elder Program

Elders were traditionally venerated in Asian cultures, and given roles of authority within their families and communities. In the United States, the elders have lost much of this special status and consequently they feel isolated, dejected, and unneeded. For many, the sense of depression is compounded by poverty or physical and psychological frailties.

One way the Elder Program works to improve elders' quality of life is by providing opportunities to come together to socialize, have fun, and learn. Two projects - Elder Circle, and Adult Day Care - offer group gatherings featuring table games, congregate meals, seasonal celebrations, field trips, and workshops on topics of interest to senior citizens.

Because of language and other barriers, refugee and immigrant elders may have difficulty accessing the array of health, economic, and social benefits and resources available to senior citizens. The bi-lingual Elder Program staff members provide interpretation, application assistance, and other help – whatever is needed to assist elders connect with resources that can improve their quality of life. The program also educates and coaches the elder' children on ways they can provide direct care for their elderly parents or help them access community resources.

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Self-Sufficiency Program

Whether the job market in the Twin Cities is robust, or weak, refugees and immigrants find it difficult to find work that pays living wages, or to find a job at all. Barriers such as the inability to speak and read English, lack of job skills, or transportation, get in the way of securing and keeping a job.

Whether the job market in the Twin Cities is robust, or weak, refugees and immigrants find it difficult to find work that pays living wages, or to find a job at all. Barriers such as the inability to speak and read English, lack of job skills, or transportation, get in the way of securing and keeping a job.

The Self-Sufficiency Program helps refugees and immigrants prepare for and obtain the employment they need to sustain themselves and their families. Services include job search assistance, help in writing a resumes and filling out a job applications, job coaching, job clubs, and post-placement follow-up with the worker and employer. The Self-Sufficiency Program's job development staff has established relationships with dozens of companies in and around the Twin Cities that are open to hiring individuals who may lack high levels of skill and experience, but are motivated to learn and work.

A major focus of the Self-Sufficiency Program, as its name implies, is on developing the job seeker's independent skills in securing employment and advancing on a career path. The clients learn how to conduct an on-line job search, and attend classes on writing a resume or how to conduct themselves in a job interview. Individuals with low English levels are referred to the VSS ESL Program. Qualified clients are helped to enroll in short-term training courses offered by technical schools and other training institutions.

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Youth Program

Project Title: Southeast Asian Youth 4 Change

Project Goal: To engage Southeast Asian (SEA) youth and young adults will engage their community in tobacco free prevention activities that promote the adoption of comprehensive tobacco-free policies, including tobacco-free grounds, tobacco-free funding, and cessation referrals.

Strategy: To engage, build capacity, and mobilize youth and young adults to become volunteer tobacco control advocates in order to mobilize the community, to penetrate and build community awareness using a best practice curriculum to deliver community education to targeted institutions; to engage targeted institutions to develop, pass, and implement policies to limit youth and young adults’ exposure to secondhand smoke in the community; to implement, monitor and/or enforce existing policies; and to identify SEA media sources and timeline for submissions to send message that tobacco use is harmful to the health and well-being of SEAs and that it is not acceptable.

Like all parents, refugee and immigrant mothers and fathers have high hopes for their children. They dream that their children will do well in school, stay away from violence and drugs, and become well-adjusted members of their communities and society.

But refugee and immigrant children face special obstacles. While all adolescents face social and emotional challenges as they grow and develop, refugee and immigrant children bear the additional weight of needing to adjust to an unfamiliar culture. They must learn to fit in with a society that has values and traditions very different from the one from which they came. They often come into conflict with their parents, who may expect them to maintain standards of behavior far more strict than those of the more open and independent culture in America.

The purpose of the Youth Program is to help high-risk refugee and immigrant youth adjust and succeed at home, at school, and in the community. The bi-lingual, bi-cultural youth counselors provide a well-rounded menu of out-of-school-time activities: skills-building workshops, tutoring, culture classes, sports, summer camping, and opportunities for community service. These activities take place at schools, VSS, and other community locations.

While youth are the program's main focus, attention is also paid to the ability of the parents to be good nurturers. The youth counselors visit the homes of every youth at least once each year to assess needs, build trust and provide counsel. Parent meetings are held quarterly to increase parents' awareness of American youth culture, the American education system, school expectations, management of intergenerational conflict, and ways to provide encouragement and appropriate discipline.

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Health Program

The purpose of the Health Program is to help refugees and immigrants, especially those from Vietnam, Burma, and Somalia, overcome language, cultural and economic barriers to health and healthy lifestyles. The program provides a well-rounded set of health education and promotion activities, including classes on diseases and their prevention; help with enrollment in affordable public and private health insurance plans, such as Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare, and food support; outreach at community festivals, churches, temples and other places where refugees and immigrants gather; and help in accessing mainstream health services.

The ability to bridge language and cultural differences is crucial to the effectiveness of any health program for refugees and immigrants. The bilingual, bicultural staff members of the Health Program are well qualified to foster connections and communication between refugees and immigrants and the mainstream health system.

Like the Vietnamese refugees before them, Karen refugees from Burma have experienced deep traumas stemming from their experience of war, displacement, and lengthy sojourn in refugee camps. VSS developed the Karen Mental Health Project to help Karen refugees cope and deal with these traumas. Project participants receive an initial mental health assessment, individual counseling and support, and, in the case of persons who appear to have acute mental illness, a referral to mental health providers for further assessment and treatment. Support groups are held every other week for individuals and families who wish to share stories, concerns, and helpful ways to cope with pressures and stresses.

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Cancer Program

Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants have disparities in the incidence of a number of types of cancer, and low rates of cancer screening. The purpose of the Cancer Program is to promote awareness, prevention and early detection of cancer. Services include community-based education on breast, cervical, colon, and other cancers, as well as assistance in connecting women and men with screening resources. The program works closely with providers offering free or low-cost screening, such as the member clinics of the Minnesota Department of Health's Sage Breast Cancer Screening Program.

The Cancer Program staff members help clients schedule appointments, provide transportation, and link clients with follow-up services and resources in cases where there has been a cancer diagnosis. The staff also organizes support groups for women and men who are survivors of cancer.

The Cancer Program works in partnership with a number of health-focused organizations, among them the American Cancer Society, the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum. Currently, the program is collaborating with the University of Minnesota Program in Health Disparities Research on a project to identify promising strategies to promote colorectal cancer screening in the Vietnamese community.

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English Learning Program

The ability to communicate in English is essential for full participation in American society. Without at least the basics of the primary language of the land, it is difficult to find a job, use public transportation, get access to medical care or social services, or pass the U.S. citizenship test.

VSS offers English classes for students with varying levels of language skill, accommodating persons who may have never gone to school in their native country as well as those who have some of the basics but need to become more proficient. The program also serves individuals who receive MFIP and are required to attend ESL classes 20 hours per week to maintain their benefits. The English classes are held at VSS Mondays through Fridays, and are taught by qualified ESL teachers.

The VSS English Program is a member of the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium. As a consortium member, the VSS English program has access to funding resources, high-quality ESL curricula, teacher skills training opportunities, and inter-program sharing of best practices. For more information on the English Learning Program and links to English learning tools, click here

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Karen and New Refugee Support Program

The purpose of the Karen and New Refugee Support Program is to help new refugees, especially those in their first year in the United States, adjust and become self-sufficient in American society as quickly as possible. The services often begin with the greeting of a newly arriving family at the MSP airport. On-going assistance is provided in areas such as stable housing, transportation, access to public assistance benefits, and adjustment of immigration status (e.g., obtaining a green card). Referrals are made to other programs within VSS or outside of VSS for services such as employment, health education and care, and ESL.

The Karen and New Refugee Support Program is a collaboration between VSS and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. While most of the program clients are Karen from Burma, the program also serves substantial numbers of refugees from Somalia and other African countries.

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