Featured Story – Thinh Le

Ms. Thịnh Lê

Ms. Thịnh Lê

Helping Link’s life lessons helped me through my late husband’s treatment at the hospital. Words like “discharge” and “restroom” were things I carried with me from my time in Helping Link, and these simple words carried me a long way.

Without organizations like Helping Link, many immigrant families, children, and elderly people would be struggling to find their voice and ability in America.

Throughout the 24 years of operation, Helping Link has helped many people of all ages arriving to the United States. Back in 1990s, the second major wave of Vietnamese immigration came to big cities like Seattle. Many come with hopes and dreams for a better opportunities and independence. Among this wave of immigrants, a large number of elderly newcomers comprise of this rising percentage. Many elderly whose cognitive learning speed has significantly decreased over time also have dreams and hopes for a better future. The need and ability to learn a new language can be difficult for many elderly immigrants. Finding the resources to help these individuals learn the basic necessities to live a relatively independent life and find new opportunities can be a struggle for many. However, with Helping Link’s resources, many doors have opened up for older individuals like Ms. Thịnh Lê, who arrived in Seattle when she was 70 years old. She came to Seattle with the sole purpose of living her life independently and to do so, this started with learning the culture, the basics of everyday living, and a completely new language.

Upon arriving to interview Ms. Thịnh Lê on a high-rise floor of the an apartment right across from a local hospital, there was already a small sense of admiration for a lady who is now in her 90s. Even though she lived on one of the top floors, her ability and determination to do things on her own made a large impression on the life she paved for herself.

As one of Helping Link’s very first clients, she recalled seeing a few ads posted in the community as well as the fact that her relatives mentioned the ads to her. Determined to make a life for herself without her family’s help, she decided to take a 30-minute bus ride to Helping Link from her relative’s house. Upon meeting Minh Duc and the volunteers at Helping Link, she was very impressed by the ESL and citizenship classes Helping Link had to offer and planted herself in the heart of the classroom immediately after.

Upon starting her ESL and citizenship classes at Helping Link in 1993, she would commute twice a week by bus to attend the evening classes. During her three years at Helping Link, she was very dedicated to her studies. While studying, Ms. Lê remembers Helping Link’s dedication to their students and having the patience and ability to explain concepts clearly. The patience and kindness has motivated not only Ms. Lê but also many others to continue with their studies and pass their citizenship test. To many and to Ms. Lê, Helping Link was a close-knit community and a second home. Among one of the greatest memories at Helping Link was a celebration Minh Duc put together for all the ESL students. Ms. Lê was nominated as Helping Link’s model student for her perseverance and dedication to her studies. As Helping Link’s oldest student, she had the tenacity to ask questions and continue to push herself more to master more complex English vocabulary.

Ms. Thịnh Lê recalls that as a new immigrant in Seattle, Helping Link contributed tremendously to her life. Not only did it help her with to learn English and to pass her citizenship test at the end of 1995, it also taught her basic life lessons in American society. The most memorable part of Helping Link was learning how to purchase a bus ticket and what to do when crossing the street. In many southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, there are no rules or regulations to crossing the street. Helping Link taught Ms. Lê what to do when crossing the street or what to do when asking for directions. In her words, she mentions “Helping Link’s life lessons helped me through my late husband’s treatment at the hospital. Words like ‘discharge’ and ‘restroom’ were things I carried with me from my time in Helping Link and these simple words carried me a long way. After Helping Link, I carry a pocket translator with me to help communicate with others on things I may not know.”

Even after her years since coming to Helping Link, Ms. Lê still keeps up to date with the significant progress and expansion Helping Link has made over the past two decades. To the current volunteers and staff of Helping Link, she continues to support Helping Link’s cause. It is near the end of our discussion with Ms. Lê when she mentions words of support that resonate strongly with many of Helping Link’s past clients.

“Without their [volunteers’] dedication and willingness to help people like me, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Helping Link is the life of the community and brings people together with the sole purpose of improving their skills and ability to succeed in American society. The curriculum has been the best I have ever had and I would continue to wish the best for Helping Link and longevity of the organization. Without organizations like Helping Link, many immigrant families, children, and elderly people would be struggling to find their voice and ability in America. Helping Link not only provides English and citizenship test but provides skills that last a lifetime.”

Without question, Ms. Lê goes on to highlight the importance of keeping programs like Helping Link to not only the Vietnamese American community, but to all immigrants in the Seattle area.

“I would highly encourage others to join Helping Link’s programs/services. In fact, my caretaker, Bac Thao, has joined Helping Link’s ESL classes since last September on my request. Helping Link is vital to helping the Vietnamese American community, especially for elderly people. Many came with their families and have lived here for some time but do not have the basic necessities to live independent lives. Having resources like Helping Link is significant to advance our community with people of different backgrounds and ages.”

Upon the end of our visit with Ms. Lê, her continued motivation even through her 90s show the tremendous growth and opportunities she embarked upon finding resources such as Helping Link. From a language barrier to a loved one’s passing, she used the skills and knowledge she gained from her time at Helping Link and leveraged this to create a better life in America for herself.