City Heights college student Long Nguyen emigrated from Vietnam only a few years ago when he was just 11, and you might expect he’d still be adjusting to life in his new country. Instead, he’s mastering it with the help of City Heights Community Development Corporation, an organization devoted to improving the community.

You could ask 20-year-old Nguyen for the details, but you’d better catch him fast. He’s a busy young man. It’s not just that he’s a student at San Diego State and Grossmont College with an eye toward getting a degree in 2017. Nguyen is also a paid intern at a construction company and advocating for better streets in his neighborhood.

Long Nguyen working on the computer while at the Workforce Development Program.
Long Nyugen working on the computer while at the Workforce Development Program.

He gives much of the credit for his success to the City Heights Community Development Corporation’s workforce development program manager Maly E’k-Doungpanya, who herself is an immigrant.

“She found me a job!” Nyugen raves. “I’ve been looking and searching for jobs everywhere. They were able to help me find a job that’s actually related to my career path. I really appreciate what they’ve done for me.”

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While it’s focused on City Heights, the agency’s workforce program helps low-income people in need throughout the city. Among other things, it provides coaching about finding and keeping jobs, facilitates loans to pay for on-the-job training and links residents to things they need from shoes to neck ties.

“We don’t do group work-readiness training. We do one-on-one,” E’k-Doungpanya, who’s from Cambodia and has been working with CHCDC for more than two decades, said. “That’s why it makes us unique. Our staff is willing to go an extra mile to get the individual ready for the workforce market.”

Indeed, E’k-Doungpanya worked directly with Nguyen to help him prepare for interviews and learn how to create an appealing resume. Now, he has an internship in marketing and graphics at a construction firm, allowing him to make a living as he works toward a degree in graphic design at San Diego State.

“I was able to get a job that is related to my major, and I’m able to help support myself financially,” Nguyen said. “It’s a great opportunity for the youth and college kids like me that don’t really have the network to get those kinds of internships.”

In addition, Nguyen’s connections with CHCDC have helped him learn about transportation — one of his interests — and develop a passion for community activism. He’s now working with a group of residents that’s pushing for road renovations in City Heights through another program with CHCDC’s Built Environment Team.

“I’ve become more aware of the condition we live in and how to respect our environment more,” he said.

Since Nguyen moved to the U.S. he’s been involved with the Built Environment Team. He gives credit to the program because it has given him a platform to voice his opinion on city matters like advocating for a new bike lane.

Today, Nguyen has a paid internship and is on track toward a bright future, but E’k-Doungpanya’s work with him isn’t necessarily done.

“When our residents are employed, we continue to provide case management,” E’k-Doungpanya said. “We teach them how to be a long-term successful employee and develop self-confidence. They can come back with any problem or anything that needs to be resolved. We are here to help them develop strong minds so they become self-sufficient and set examples for other people.”

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