Lealman Family Center Gives Support to Growing Vietnamese American Population

Erin Murray | Spectrum Bay News 9

May 29, 2024

Surrounded by homes in the Lealman neighborhood in Pinellas County, sits a small family center. 

It is called the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center. The word “Asian” is in the title because so many of the students and families it serves are of Asian descent.  

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Thuat Truong has worked at the center for 19 years. The kids call her Mrs. T. 

“We have lot of Vietnamese students, they came from Vietnam. And I help them to learn English here,” said Thuat Truong, the program coordinator.

Many of the students and their parents do not know English when they first move to the U.S. or arrive at the center. So getting homework done with the students is a big stress reliever for parents. 

But it is not just kids Mrs. T helps. She assists the parents too. Trang Truong is a friend and a person Thuat Truong helped several years ago. They are not related.

Trang Truong immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s and remembers the fear that came with that enormous life change.

“A lot of struggle,” said Trang. “The first few months we feel like a fish out of water.” 

The center helped Trang and her husband with English classes. 

They both then were able to graduate from college in the Bay area, and their children have now graduated from college too. All of them are now successfully in the workforce. 

“My son Kevin is the manager of my alteration shop at St. Pete Beach,” said Trang Truong with a proud smile.

Trang Truong’s story is just one of many who have found community, friendship, and growth at the family center. 

“We have a growing Vietnamese community,” said Caterina Tassara Runyon, the head of Communications & Development at the Lealman & Asian Neighborhood Family Center. “We have a Laotian community that speaks Laotian from Laos. We have a Hmong community; we have a Chinese community.”

This part of Pinellas County has become a landing spot for many Asian American families. 

“Our demographics nationwide are at about 6%. So, the fact that a small city like Pinellas Park has 12% population of Asian descent, that’s a huge number,” said Runyon.

The staff at the center speak as many languages as the families they serve. But it is more than language, it is about culture and heritage. 

“English is not my first language,” said Runyon. “And as an immigrant myself to the United States, I so can relate to the challenges of being a child and having English not be your first language and being afraid.”

The recognition of keeping one’s heritage but also assimilating into their new nationality, that is the balance many families find important at the center. 

To Trang Truong, being American is very important. But she does not want to forget where she came from either. 

“I still want to keep my culture,” said Trang Truong. “Keep my culture, my language and some parts of Vietnam; we still want to keep them.”

Much of the funding for the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center comes from the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board

They help people with finding many resources in the community including childcare, health insurance, jobs, and access to unemployment. 

Read the article and view the news segment as published at https://baynews9.com/fl/tampa/news/2024/05/28/lealman-asian-vietnamese-pinellas-family