Community empowerment is the main tenant at the Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. SEAC, a New Americans Campaign partner, was founded in 2011 and creates a voice for the rapidly growing Asian American community in North Carolina, particularly those from the 11 countries that make up Southeast Asia.
SEAC employs a diverse youth volunteer corps to empower this portion of the local Southeast Asian population and to amplify its work with immigrants eligible to become U.S. citizens.
One youth program is the SEAC Law Corps, which is a grassroots mobilization effort where youth help their communities by planning citizenship fairs. Participants are under the age of 18 and are tasked with planning and coordinating these events, as well as mobilizing volunteers and clients to attend.
18-year-old Thao Nguyen is one of 4 volunteers involved in the program. She’s intimately familiar with the naturalization process because her entire family recently applied for citizenship. But, it was her volunteerism with SEAC that really helped them start the process.
“I wanted to get more experience in what’s going on in my community,” says Thao. “It feels great to help other become citizens because while I can gain experience for myself, I can also help out other people.”
Thao was born in Vietnam in 1997. The SEAC volunteer program has helped her further develop her English language skills in reading comprehension, speaking and translation after she and her family arrived in the U.S. in 2008.
“I can be confident about myself while I help other people, and I feel good about that,” says Thao.
Thao’s family was able to navigate the naturalization process with greater ease with her help and experience with the N-400 citizenship application.
“It’s important to become a U.S. citizen because you have more opportunities than green card holders,” Thao says. “Also, when people get older, they’re able to get more benefits when then retire.”
Thao is a future Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and anxiously awaits word on her citizenship application.
As she embarks on her next journey to college, Thao’s already learned valuable life lessons through SEAC.
“I learned that there’s a lot of people out there that need help,” she says. “If you can do something for people when they need help, there’s no reason to sit around.”