Building a bridge for Hmong youth
mentoring program helps young people connect two cultures
On the bright corner of Wisconsin and Farwell streets in downtown Eau Claire is the office of the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association. Since 1982, this organization has helped integrate Hmong families and individuals into our community. For adults, the association can provide interpreters when language barriers exist and know-how on the job market for those that are lacking education or job skills. For Hmong youth, the association has created Building Bridges, a mentoring program for youth acclimating to the American culture and educational system. According to Donna Berry, program developer, “The Building Bridges for Youth Program is a mentor-based program designed to provide youth with a ‘bridge’ between their Hmong home life and their mainstream academic and social life to ease the tension created by the differences between Hmong-American subculture and mainstream culture.”
Each Wednesday evening during the school year, middle school and high school students gather with mentors and volunteers to receive tutoring help and participate in a fun activity. Twice per month they work with the Boy Scouts of America curriculum. The association has created this cohesive group in an effort to diminish negative social behaviors such as underage drinking, to increase academic confidence, and to promote healthy living through nutrition and positive relationships.
Evidence of their work together can be seen in episodes of What’s Cooking with Kids?, a program on Chippewa Valley Community TV. Working in conjunction with producer Nancy Coffey of the UW Extension Nutrition Program, students work in front of and behind the camera to create 15-minute cooking segments. One segment, “Spring Rolls,” featured Chef Molly and her mentee, Yer, taking the viewer step-by-step through the creation of this traditional Asian treat while also sharing the cultural relevance of this food as it is shared on holidays such as birthdays and Christmas. An on-screen graphic ticks off the necessary ingredients, and as the credits roll at the end of the show, the crew is listed on a first-name basis – “Cameras: Aleisha, Alex, and Lee” – with credit given to the producers of this particular segment, Jessica and Nancy Coffey.
Coffey espouses the benefits of working together on a project such as this one. “Using cooking videos as a teaching method helps children share what they have learned about food preparation, nutrition, and food safety with the community,” she says. “When you teach someone, you synthesize the message, and it reinforces what you have learned.” The children proudly share the uploaded YouTube videos with their friends and family.
Building Bridges closes out the school year with a weekend camping trip offering educational workshops and recreational activities. Through the yearlong engagement, participants are creating healthy ethnic identities that will hopefully foster a life of healthy living and relationships.
Berry elaborates on the role our community plays in making this program possible: “Building Bridges has been in existence since 2006 and serves about 30 middle school and high school youth, and 30 mentors (drawn from the UW-Eau Claire student body) each year. This year there are two Hispanic youth in the program, and if funding allows we hope to expand the program to include more Hispanic youth.”
Volunteers are needed each semester. To learn more, call the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association at (715) 832-8420.