Silicon Valley Vietnamese nonprofits struggle to secure grants
Vietnamese community organizations offer residents English language classes, digital literacy programs, access to basic needs and more. Photo courtesy of VIVO.

    Vietnamese leaders are calling for equitable funding across community-based organizations in an effort to ensure residents aren’t left behind.

    Santa Clara County’s Vietnamese nonprofits have faced a longstanding gap in funding and resources, despite the population’s significant presence in the region. Advocates said these funding disparities are detrimental to the organizations that provide the greatest support for Vietnamese residents.

    Quyen Vuong, executive director of the International Children Assistance Network (ICAN), said Vietnamese agencies are best equipped to assist the community because they understand the culture, one where seeking help is stigmatized.

    “Vietnamese (residents) traditionally have been notorious for not seeking services, not accessing services… Over the years, the people have come to trust us,” Vuong told San José Spotlight. “We hit the needs, (but) we don’t have enough money.”

    ICAN has to balance what programs it can offer through the funding it’s able to receive, she said. The nonprofit provides family workshops, financial literacy programs and assistance with basic needs like housing.

    Vietnamese residents, many of whom are immigrants and refugees, have battled language and economic barriers in obtaining resources and health care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, small business owners struggled to apply for government grants in the wake of massive shutdowns. San Jose is the city with the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, totaling more than 100,000 residents.

    Tam Nguyen, programs director of the Vietnamese Voluntary Foundation (VIVO) and a former San Jose councilmember, said Vietnamese organizations are being left behind as local governments favor larger agencies. VIVO is a nonprofit that provides English language learner classes, digital literacy programs and more.

    “We’ve been sidelined all the time by the city and the county. They always said the reason (is) we are too small, we cannot do the job. We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the know-how,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight. “So help us out. Give us the resources.”

    Kristen Van Kley, spokesperson for the city manager’s office, said grant requirements can differ for certain departments. The city reviews factors such as financial status, matching fund availability, target population and track record.

    “(Our) goal is to provide equitable distribution of grants to small and large nonprofit organizations who provide much-needed services to our community,” Van Kley told San José Spotlight. “Organizations need to demonstrate their ability to focus on the grant programs’ target populations the city is attempting to serve, such as at-risk youth, socially isolated seniors, neighborhood associations, (and include) the proven efficacy of the proposed programs. ”

    San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan said small, community organizations can reach out to city officials for funding guidance, and can also look to larger nonprofits for advice.

    “It’s extremely important because grants are very tricky and very detail oriented,” Doan told San José Spotlight. “All nonprofit organizations who want to apply for grants should reach out to city staff in order to make sure that they cross their T’s, dot their I’s. That way, when they apply, they can get the grants that they are qualified for.”

    VIVO President Bao Trieu said the organization seeks funding from a variety of sources, including private foundations, city and county government agencies, but options are still limited.

    “Vietnamese nonprofits are small in size and are usually not geared for projects for the general population, and are thus limited to smaller grants which focus on the ethnic Vietnamese community,” Trieu told San José Spotlight.

    The costs 

    Nguyen said funding disparities have already taken a toll on local organizations. VIVO’s weekly citizenship classes are entirely volunteer-run, but have more than 170 students registered. Nguyen said citizenship is crucial in helping Vietnamese residents gain more rights, including the right to vote.

    “We have to do a lot ourselves,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight. “We do a lot of extra work without pay to achieve the goal, to reach out to the community.”

    Vuong said ICAN hopes to keep programs like its Healing Circle Pilot Project running, but inconsistent funding has already affected initiatives in the past. The program hosts trauma-informed discussions about mental health and illnesses like PTSD. She said the project has already helped seniors, pointing to a participant who struggled to talk about her post-Vietnam War experiences prior to joining the circle.

    “By hearing other people sharing their story, their vulnerability, she realized that everybody has vulnerabilities… She felt free,” Vuong told San José Spotlight. “People were asking, ‘When can we do more of this?’”

    Nguyen said funding for Vietnamese organizations ensures the Vietnamese community has a voice.

    “We are receiving some funding… We’re not really there at the table yet,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight. “I hope with time, given our proven record, that the city and the county will be more comfortable in dealing directly with us.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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