Center aims to help Asian-Americans with oil spill, Katrina recovery


OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi – A resource center for Asian-Americans to overcome the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina opened Tuesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Kaitlin Truong, chairwoman and one of the founders of Asian-Americans for Change, said young Asian-American professionals joined together “to help not only our families, our parents, but a lot of the people in the community who suffered the catastrophe of Katrina.”

The organization formed in 2007 after Katrina to help people with recovery, she said.

“We did not have funding and it took about three years to get to where we are right now, Truong said. “With the oil spill we want to provide more assistance.”

Truong said there were about 5,000 Vietnamese-Americans on the coast before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico set back their recovery from Katrina, she said.”A lot of them moved away, but they came back because this their second home after Vietnam,” she said.

“They’ve been through some tough times,” Truong said. “As you can imagine, their livelihood was affected.”

In July, the group organized a claims fair with more than 30 exhibitors and 500 people in attendance to help with translation issues, a news release from Asian-Americans for Change reported.

“Right now they are still confused. Many of them expressed that they did not get an emergency payment,” she said.

“With the oil spill they were most hardest hit because the majority of them are also fishermen. So, the BP oil spill really took a toll on them and their family’s lives. This ribbon cutting is a beginning of our effort to help with the recovery process.”

Wayne Kuntz, director of work force development at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus in Gulfport, said the college has held a heating and air conditioning class with a Vietnamese-speaking instructor.

“We have partnered with Asian-Americans for Change to help offer some classes designed for the population that we feel like has been under-served,” he said.

The class with 14 students was intended to allow the students get a job or start their own business in heating and air conditioning, he said.

A certified nursing assistant class is also planned, he said.

Tuan Dang, a case manager at the center, said he was hoping fishermen could get back on their feet following Hurricane Katrina.

“With the oil spill we don’t know,” he said. “The center offers the opportunity of a second job just in case the water is permanently closed.”

Truong said the non-profit Ocean Springs center has received funding from Gulf Coast Fund for Equity, State Farm, and AT&T.

The center at 2112 Bienville Blvd., Suite 2, Ocean Springs, has a three-person staff and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, she said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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