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Vietnamese refugees began coming to Minnesota in large numbers after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Over the next several years it became increasingly apparent that the Vietnamese community was in need of a social service organization to help its people make the difficult adjustment to American society. Finally, in 1987, a group of community leaders took up the challenge and Vietnamese Social Services of Minnesota (VSS) was born.
In its first three years, VSS operated only one program - a small effort to meet Vietnamese elders' needs for socialization and help them access public assistance benefits. VSS has since grown into a multi-service agency with programs in health education and promotion, youth development, elder services, English literacy, employment and job training, and housing.
Over the years, VSS has helped many thousands of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants overcome formidable language and cultural barriers and succeed in the new country. Successive waves of refugees have come from Vietnam since the first group arrived immediately after the conclusion of the Vietnam War. In the 1980's thousands of "boat people" found their way to freedom in the U.S. They were followed in the 1990's by political prisoners released from Communist "re-education" camps. The children of these former political prisoners are continuing to arrive today in small numbers. Finally, Vietnamese individuals and families are coming to Minnesota from other states to take advantage of the state's excellent refugee services and quality of life, or as family-sponsored immigrants from Vietnam.
All of these resettlement avenues, as well as natural births, have resulted in the tripling of the State's Vietnamese population between 1990 and the present. Today, more than 26,000 Vietnamese make Minnesota their home.
VSS underwent an historic shift in 2003. In that year, the organization adopted a new strategic plan - a roadmap not only for the continued social, cultural, and economic strengthening of the Vietnamese community, but also for the application of VSS's experience and expertise in refugee resettlement to meet the needs of newer refugee groups. Soon after, VSS received a request for resettlement help from leaders in the newly emerging Karen community in St. Paul. VSS responded initially by making space available for Karen-speaking social service volunteers, and over the past few years developed several projects targeting Karen and Somali refugees.
VSS is proud of its many years of service to refugees and immigrants in Minnesota. VSS looks forward to new challenges and opportunities as it continues to meet the needs of individuals and families from all over the world who are seeking a new and better life in America.