SEARCH celebrates fifteen years


Hoang Tran knows how to throw a party. The hundreds of guests, including leaders from community organizations and public agencies, who filled U Garden on Wednesday evening for the Fifteenth Anniversary Celebration of the South East Asian Refugee Community Home (SEARCH) would attest that is was a grand evening.

Hoang K. Tran, Esq. is the founding President and Public Relations officer of SEARCH, and brought together staff, board, and community friends to celebrate the Minneapolis organizations growth and expansion in serving the Southeast Asian, African and other immigrant communities with employment, education and training services, youth, advocacy and access and tobacco prevention programs.

Hoang Tran welcomed the guests and spoke with pride about his organization that has served approximately 3,000 people in the past 15 years. He said this would not be possible without the many partnerships with organizations and individuals who can come forward with their talents when needed. He said they give SEARCH the capacity it needs to grow as a multi-ethnic service organization.

Tran also thanked the SEARCH Board of Directors, calling them a group of volunteers that give the organization the structure it needs to operate as a professional and culturally appropriate mutual assistance association.

The SEARCH staff, Tran continued, are the people who make the office and programs work day-to-day. As a busy immigration attorney and board president, Tran said his time in the office is limited and has come to rely on the staff’s ability to work independently. He is confident that when he retires, the organization will continue with the same passion he envisioned for it from the start.

“Without the staff, I wouldn’t be standing here now,” he said.

Tran and SEARCH Board Chair Tri D. Nguyen, presented several awards.

SEARCH Vice Chair Laura W. Wittstock and Secretary Mr. Punnarin Koy were honored as outstanding board members.

Wittstock said she encouraged everyone to get out into the community more. She has been friends with Trang since day one and said that all refugee immigrants should be proud of this organization and congratulated them on 15 years of success.

“I don’t know of a better group that is serving the Southeast Asian community and now the Somali, Ethiopian, and East Africans.” she said.

Staff Plaques were presented to outstanding employees, Ms. Thanh Van T. Nguyen and Mr. Ahmed Hassan. Nguyen is the longest serving staff member, and Hassan is one of the newest.

(Ms. Thanh Van T. Nguyen and Mr. Ahmed Hassan)

Hoang Tran said of Nguyen, “No thanks would be enough for Van, who has been with the organization since the beginning.” Of Hassan, Tran described him as a newcomer who has become a blessing to the organization in helping SEARCH realize its goal of expanding to other assist ethnic immigrant and refugee communities, “and becoming an international organization in the truest sense.”

Tran then thanked the clients for carrying out the requirements and work that they need to do to succeed and make their programs and organization fulfill its mission. They invited two, a Hmong and Somali, both newcomers who have succeeded in their transition to work, ESL and self-sufficiency.

Plaques were also presented funders and friends of the organization. Ms. Sherry R. Koster, Ms. Jane Stamstad, Ms. Donna Sherlock, and representatives of the Sheltering Arms Foundation were all honored.

As the guests were treated to course after course of great seafood specialties from the U Garden Cambodian-Chinese chefs, they were treated to entertainment, which began with a video production on the work of SEARCH with the help of Spencer Ung of U Garden.

SEARCH Youth Coordinator Dai Vu, a staff member for the past two years, served as emcee for the event. She introduced several entertainers.

Sam Tran, 11, a second degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do, amazed the crowd with his agile and skillful demonstrations on form and weapons. Tran who studies under Sensei Richard Schmidt at the Rosemount ATA (American Tae Kwan Do Association). He was present with his father, Nhu D. Tran or Rosemount, who brings Sam all over the country to compete in tournaments – which helped to make him an ATA state champion.

Linh Nguyen and Timmy Nguyen brought the Mei Linh Dancers from Eagan to perform the Khuc Ca Dong Thao dance of South Vietnam. This traditional piece is all about getting the fields ready for the next harvest.

The dancers included: Vi Pham, 9, Lily Truong, 9, Brooke Vorarath, 11, Hao Bui, 11, Jennifer Nguyen 10, and the Chanthavisouk sisters. Tida, 10 and Anna, 9. They perform their traditional dances at several area community events throughout the year.

SEARCH Treasurer Phouninh Vixayvong, who is also executive director of Lao Women’s Association, and her daughter, Kak Vixayvong, brought three talented dancers: Vanida Keohavong, 13, Jasmine Chanthalaveo, 12, and Anue Phothisanh, 13, to perform the Dok Champa dance, inspired by the dok huk (flower of love) and the National Flower of Laos.

The University of Minnesota Vietnamese Student Association performed the Trung Thu dance, a traditional dance that they perform with others for Vietnamese events at school and in the community throughout the year. The dancers were led by My Te Dao, and included Noah Huynh, Jesse Lund, Nina Nguyen, Linh Nguyen and Lan Phan.

The evening was about accomplishments and thanks. People associated with the organization since its humble beginnings to the present were publicly acknowledged and appreciated the efforts that have culminated in more than 3,000 people having used SEARCH programs in the last fifteen years.

During the last fifteen years, approximately 3,000 people have used SEARCH programs and have worked enormously hard to learn new things, to learn English language skills, to try to fit into this new culture. SEARCH provides training for jobs in childcare, and assistance in helping to set up home daycare business, software training for office jobs, training for electronic components jobs.

They attribute a high placement rate to their tailored services in employment linkages, counseling, ESL, and specialized training.

SEARCH was an all-volunteer organization to meet the major cultural and linguistic gaps in the employment services. SEARCH was an early member of the Bicultural Training Partnership project, the Technology Consortium, and the Asian Pacific Tobacco-Free Coalition. They now have Crime Victim Services, Intensive English classes, and small business mentorships.

In 2002, then Governor Jesse Ventura sent a Letter of Proclamation declaring December 12, 2002 to be observed as “SEARCH 10th Anniversary Day.” The Proclamation emphasized SEARCH as an organization on the leading edge of understanding the urgent needs of the immigrant community, and effectively working to meet those challenges. It further stated that people of Minnesota recognize the growing number of Southeast Asians in Minnesota and the work that SEARCH has done to assist the integration into civic, employment, technological, and educational opportunities, with culturally competent social services to youth and adults.

Learn more about SEARCH online at Visit their offices at 1113 E. Franklin Avenue, Suite 212, Minneapolis, or call 612-673-9388.