Asian American Civic Association successes

Summer 2016
In This Issue
Yanmei Chen

Growing up in a small village in Taishan, China, Yanmei Chen planted snow peas, sweet potatoes, and bok choy to put food on the table for her family.

She dreamed of one day immigrating to the United States where it would be easier to move upwards in society and fulfill her dreams of working in biotechnology.

After receiving her bachelor's in food science and engineering, Chen immigrated to Quincy at 24-years-old and found her first job at a McDonald's. Chen said her best advice to new immigrants is to focus on mastering English. "You can't overcome everything in one day."

Even as she practiced her English with customers, she worried about finding a job in her field and felt lost.

Chen enrolled in AACA's Next Steps Transitional English Program for six months which helped her to boost her grammar, writing, speaking, and understanding of American culture. With two additional part-time jobs, she enrolled in Quincy College, where a professor encouraged her to apply for a position at Sanofi Genzyme, a biotechnology company.

In under one year, she was promoted to Research Assistant and then Research Associate in a cell culture and development laboratory. "It's a real job in biotechnology!" she said.
Yanmei was the recipient of the Richard & Susan Smith Family Foundation College Achievement Award

Left to right: Citizens Bank Chinatown Branch Manager/AVP and AACA Financial Literacy Coach Herb Wong with three Citizens Bank employees who all graduated from AACA. From left to right: Sr. Teller Jean Lee, Teller Sue Gu, and Small Business Representative Yuanyuan Wang.

Dear friend of AACA,

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Meet Financial Literacy Coach Herb Wong
Herb Wong has been volunteering his time at AACA for a decade. He is a part-time financial literacy coach at AACA.

Herb Wong's love for teaching began before college when he taught summer school.

The Citizens Bank Chinatown Branch Manager and AVP has been in the banking industry for 15 years. For ten of those years, he has volunteered at AACA providing financial literacy workshops and financial coaching.

"I love teaching. They ask great questions mainly about credit, loans, building credit, what's a credit score, what do numbers mean, mortages, how to fix their credit. When they're learning something, that's what I love," said Wong.

He added, "I go through everything step by step." In addition to providing mock interviews and workshops, Wong spends half an hour with each client during one-on-one coaching making sure to answer all of the client's questions. "They tell me the differences between credit scores in China and Asia," he said. Some of the clients come back to Wong many times. He recalled one client from the Building Energy Efficient Maintenance Skills training program who came to see him week after week asking for advice on how to save more and how to get his financials back on track.

Wong's desire to help immigrants at AACA through financial coaching has deep roots. "My mom was an immigrant. When she came over, I wish there were people who helped her," he said.

Three of Wong's employees at Citizens Bank in Chinatown (pictured above) are graduates of AACA. 

AACA Raises Over $270,000 at Annual Gala 
AACA Board President Yongmei Chen, AACA Executive Director Chau-ming Lee, Eastern Bank CEO and awardee Richard Holbrook, Governor Charlie Baker, and Tufts Medical Center's Director of Community Health Improvement Programs Sherry Dong at the AACA Gala 

AACA celebrated 49 years at its annual gala, "Their Courage to be New," on July 13 at Club Royale. About 400 guests attended the event.

"We are so honored to serve immigrants, as they are the fabric of our community," said Yongmei Chen, AACA board president.
The Community Service Award was presented to Eastern Bank chairman and CEO Richard Holbrook.

Gov. Charlie Baker said, "Let me congratulate the AACA for all the work that you do. ... Eastern Bank is not just a partner with your organization, but Richard is a tremendous guy as a professional and as a community leader."
The Employer Partner of the Year Award went to Home Depot.
Mass. Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Ron Walker said, "As chair of the Governor's Workforce Skills Cabinet, we are really focused on making sure people have the skills necessary to get jobs. This organization is actually one of the best in the state at making sure skills are taught so people get a job in the community."

AACA adult learners were honored at the event. Yanmei Chen, a research associate at Sanofi Genzyme, received the Richard & Susan Smith Family Foundation College Achievement Award. Chen, an immigrant from Guangzhou, China, had completed high-level English classes through AACA's Next Steps Transitional English Program.

Sudha Bhandari, head teller at TD Bank, received the George A. Russell Jr. Career Advancement Award. She had banking experience in her homeland of Nepal, but was unable to find a financial job until she enrolled in the Careers in Banking and Finance program at AACA.

Mayor Marty Walsh said, "The association has done tremendous work to support the greater Boston immigrant community. You've connected people, especially people new to our country, with educational opportunities, training and services they need to build a life here. You've impacted so many families over the years."

The event featured live performances, including a Bollywood dance by Indian youth, a Japanese dance by Showa Boston, a modern dance by Mia Tsai, a traditional Chinese dance by Esther Ng and a pipa performance by Yang Wei of the Silk Road Ensemble.

The gala raised more than $278,000.

AACA provides limited English-speaking and economically disadvantaged people with education, occupational training and social services, enabling them to realize lasting economic self-sufficiency since 1967. Today AACA serves clients from over 80 countries.

More event images are online here. 
By Ling-Mei Wong/Sampan

Yuanyuan Wang: New Roots
Yuanyuan Wang, a graduate of the New Roots to Employment Program

When Yuanyuan Wang's husband landed a research job at Harvard University, she made the decision to immigrate to Boston and leave behind her well-established career as an investment manager in Beijing.

After working as a Human Resources Assistant, she eventually joined the New Roots to Employment class at AACA which helps highly skilled immigrants to reclaim their careers. Through the class, Wang was able to land a job at Citizens Bank in Chinatown as a Small Business Representative. Wang's new job is not exactly the same field as her last job but she is excited about it and plans on getting her Master's one day so she can move up the ladder.

Wang said, "It's been extremely difficult. When you don't know the language and culture, obviously you can't get the same job. It took me awhile to realize that reality. It's not only a problem for me."

But Wang said the New Roots to Employment class really helped her to feel like she wasn't alone. In New Roots, she met a lot of professionals from China, Europe, Ukraine and South America. "They all had years and years of experience. They try their best to be optimistic," she said. 

Wang said the Burlington English component of the course helped her in particular. It helped her to focus on preparing for networking in a professional environment. "This program helped us all to achieve our goals," she said.

Wang said the New Roots program is beneficial to society as a whole. "There are a lot of well-educated immigrants but when they move to a country, they don't take jobs that fit their skills and qualifications."
She added, "We contribute to society if we find better jobs. We pay more taxes one day. We could help people."

Mentoring Program Builds Confidence    

Senior Vice President of Wellesley Bank Alice Lee is a mentor to Julie Feng
Around 70% of Fortune 500 firms have formal mentoring programs in place. AACA's mentoring program started three years ago. Currently, 8 professionals spend one hour per month mentoring clients from AACA. They provide mentees with support and guidance.

Some of the mentor-mentee matches include an attorney and paralegal as well as an accountant and an aspiring accountant. Mentee Hongfang Li said she was thankful that AACA had provided her with a lot of support. Her advisor, AACA Assistant Director of Education Shinobu Ando, and her first mentor, Marie, served as references when she applied for her dream job. They completed surveys and wrote many positive things about her. Hongfang said her current mentor, Peggy, helped her to prepare for a job interview. "The interviewers asked me the first three questions which Peggy helped me to prepare...I felt very confident during the interview." Hongfang landed the job and is now a patient care technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The mentoring program has also proven to be rewarding for the mentors. Alice Lee, Senior Vice President at Wellesley Bank, said she was impressed and humbled by her mentee's strength and determination to achieve. "Working with Julie has reminded me of the challenges presented by a new language and culture.  My family experienced those same challenges when we immigrated many years ago." Lee said she was glad to have the opportunity to share with Julie Feng some of the things she's learned along the way.  

Three Students Win College Scholarships  

From left to right: Next STEP graduates Olivia Yang, Catricia Plaisir, Evgeniia Kagramanova, and AACA Director of Education Richard Goldberg at the First Literacy scholarship awards ceremony at Boston City Hall.
Three students who finished the Asian American Civic Association's Next Steps Transitional English Program  each received $1,000 scholarships for college. Ou (Olivia) Yang and Catricia Plaisir are headed for college in September and received their awards in a ceremony at Boston City Hall on August 16 along with
Evgeniia Kagramanova who won a continuation (second year) $1,000 scholarship. Evgeniia, who will soon finish her course requirements for a bachelor's degree in economics at UMass Boston, also won the scholarship in 2015.
Olivia and Catricia followed very different paths to success and showed how persistence and hard work paid off.
Olivia, who came to the U.S. from China in 2015, received an Associate's degree in English in her home country. Although she was able to secure employment as a universal banker at Citizens Bank, she said she was "shocked and overwhelmed" when dealing with the demands of a fast-paced mainstream U.S. workplace. "During that time, I gave myself too much pressure because I wanted to provide good customer service and help customers to solve their problems. But I found that I also needed help when I faced too many new things around me. After one month, I made a tough choice to quit the job and return to AACA to learn English. Although my first chance in American failed, I still learned a lot from this experience." For the past several months, she has been doing volunteer clerical work at AACA. "I want to thank AACA for giving me so much help," she said. Olivia will enroll at Quincy College to study accounting.
Catricia immigrated from Haiti in 2012. She did not know her parents and was raised by her grandmother "who prepared me for any situation in life." Although she graduated from Boston Adult Technical Academy, Catricia still felt that she need more English to reach her goal of going to college. Between 2013 and 2016, she took five levels of intermediate English classes at AACA. She also finished a training program at the BEST Corp. Hospitality Training Center and was hired as a room attendant at the Omni Parker House hotel. "I know it is hard here in America to work and go to school at the same time, but if you have patience and motivation, you will make it because a lot of people have done it before. I am still young, and I have plenty of time ahead of me to go to school and get a degree for a better future." Catricia will enroll at Bunker Hill Community College and has a long-term goal of becoming a nurse.
The scholarships are provided by First Literacy, a 28-year old Boston-based organization which improves families' literacy and English skills, helps adults obtain their high school credentials and supports graduates of adult basic education programs who want to attend college.

By Director of Education Richard Goldberg 

Keila Rodrigues: Mission Accomplished
Keila Rodrigues, a graduate of the Careers in Banking & Finance program

Before enrolling in AACA's banking training program, Keila Rodrigues, 25, used only two fingers to type. The banking program, which includes a computer class, taught her how to type "professionally" using all of her fingers. "I didn't know how to do that before," she said smiling. Previously employed at Dunkin' Donuts, she just landed a job as a Teller at East Boston Savings Bank. Keila, who is a Cape Verdean immigrant, said, "In my country, to work in a bank is a big thing! I feel great. Excited! It's a new career in my life."

Once in Boston, Keila entered high school for two years at Boston Adult Technical Academy. There someone let her know about AACA. After completing four levels of ESOL training at AACA, she enrolled in the banking program. Rodrigues said that the class taught her all the basics of sales, customer service and cash handling. Her favorite part of the class, however, was learning how to distinguish real bills from counterfeit ones.

Hats Off to Our Program Referral Winners! 

Mirgena Brahja and her husband Ergys
A graduate of AACA's banking program won a Google Chromebook through AACA's incentive program. Congratulations Mirgena Brahja and thank you for successfully referring multiple clients to AACA's job training programs! Mirgena and her husband, Ergys, are college sweethearts from Albania who completed the banking program together. They are now both employed as bank tellers at Bank of America. Mirgena said the first thing she planned to do on her new computer is login to Skype to talk to her parents back in Albania. They taught her to work hard and never give up. Mirgena said she and her husband had been sharing just one computer between them. Now she can talk for as long as she wants!

Funders and Other Updates

Thank you to our latest funders!

Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation: $203,808 for Next   STEPS Transitional English   
Workforce Competitive Trust Fund, Commonwealth Corporation: $157,500 for Careers in Banking & Finance 
United Way: $92,832 for General Operating Expenses 
Mayor's Office of Workforce Development--Neighborhood Jobs Trust: $86,217 for Careers in Banking & Finance 
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: 
$80,587 for Piantedosi Workplace Education 
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education IET: $51,660 for Building Energy Efficient Maintenance Skills  
Mayor's Office of Workforce Development: CDBG: $50,000 for the Employment Center 
Bank of America Foundation: $35,000 for the Workforce Development Center
Cummings Foundation: $33,334 for the Workforce Development Center 
SkillWorks: $30,000 for Building Energy Efficient Maintenance Skills 
Citizens Bank: $25,000 for Careers in Banking & Finance 
Godfrey Boston: $25,000 for General Operating Expenses 
Cathay Bank Foundation: $20,000 for Careers in Banking & Finance 
Eastern Bank Foundation: $10,000 for the Mulan Society  
English for New Bostonians: $5,500  for New Roots 
People's United Community Foundation of Eastern Massachusetts: $5,000 for the Workforce Development Center 
Emma Lazarus II Fund: $5,500 for the DACA/DAPA outreach initiative  
Paul and Edith Babson Foundation: $4,000 for the Youth Employment Center 
U.S. DOL Strengthening Families grant: CBF and New Roots: TBD 
Gala Sponsors
Tufts Medical Center: Underwriter
Stanley Chen: Orchid
Cathay Bank: Gladiola
State Street
Double Tree Hotel
Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation
Carol Rose
South Cove Community Health Center
Tufts University-School of Dental Medicine
Home Depot
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation
Keolis Commuter Services, LLC
Tony Kwan
Richard Soo Hoo Insurance
Alexander Bove
Webster Bank N.A.
East Boston Savings Bank
Peabody Properties, Inc.
BlueCross BlueShield of Massachusetts
Chin & Curtis, LLP
University of Massachusetts, Boston
Neiman Marcus
Emerson College
Boston Foundation
Hallmark Health System
Boston Medical Center
Global View Communications, Inc
People's United Bank
East Ocean Enterprise  


AACA is offering a three day customer service skills building seminar. Learn what employers are looking for in a customer service associate/representative. This is an informative seminar to help you find and keep a good customer service position. Employer partners will give priority to seminar attendees.The seminar starts on September 12 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at AACA on 87 Tyler Street on the fourth floor. To register or for more information, e-mail 

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Check out AACA's new agency Wish List

We welcome our new staff:
Hongyi Gong, Special Projects/Multi-Service Center Intern 
Abraham Polk, ESL Instructor  
Jenny Chiang, Workplace ESOL Instructor
Daniel McKoy, Math Instructor
Melody Man, Mature Worker  
Guangdao Xie, Mature Worker
Zhen Yu Liang, Summer Intern
Yessica Tavarez, Summer Intern
Jun Yang, Summer Intern
Kelly Tang, Summer Intern  
Cindy Li, Preschool Teacher
Huiqing (Winnie) Zeng, Teacher Assistant
Shuxiang Li, Buds & Blossoms Intern
Angela Chen, Buds & Blossoms Intern
Yu Fang Jiang, Buds & Blossoms Intern