ASIA Self-Sufficiency Program Client Featured by United Way of Greater Cleveland

The following article is an excerpt from United Way of Greater Cleveland website at

New country, new language, new life
for Chinese refugee

Fourteen years ago, the Lee family applied to immigrate from China to the United States. After a lengthy process, they were approved and left their homeland to begin a new life in America. But, they had to leave one family member behind, as, during the approval process, Ying Lee turned 21, and as a legal adult was not permitted to accompany her family.

Ying remained in China, completed her education — obtaining a bachelor’s degree in business administration — and became pregnant with her first child. She also continued to pursue the dream of joining her family in the US and was able to do so in November 2007.

Because they liked the weather (not too hot, not too cold, no hurricanes or earthquakes), the Lee family chose to settle in Cleveland. When Ying was finally able to rejoin her family, she was six months pregnant, highly educated, but virtually unable to communicate — she had little knowledge of written or spoken English, and as a result, was not able to work, or even drive a car.

Fortunately for Ying, years earlier, her mother had become involved in a local church, through which she met and befriended Susan Wong, the manager of self-sufficiency services for Asian Services in Action, Inc. (ASIA). ASIA was started in 1995 by four Asian immigrant women under the premise that with the right support to individuals and families, the Asian community in the Cleveland area will flourish and thrive.

Almost immediately upon her arrival in Cleveland, Ying was able to benefit from ASIA’s Newcomers Family Support Center. Funded partially by the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the center provides individuals with pre-employment, employment retention, and employment and family development services; conducts assessments for other wrap-around services, and offers classes.

Ying met with an intake specialist, who determined her needs and discussed goals and opportunities. Three primary needs were identified — to address the language barrier, to find health care for Ying and her soon to be born child, and to find employment.

The first step for Ying, and most others who are new to the Cleveland area was to attend the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes offered at ASIA. Classes are held for four hours each morning, Monday – Friday, for four months. ASIA was also able to assist Ying with obtaining health benefits and completing forms and paperwork in preparation for the birth of her baby.

The Newcomers Family Support Center also provided leads on employment opportunities for Ying. Her first job, in a Japanese restaurant preparing sushi, was short-lived, due to the impending birth of her son. Following the birth of her son in February 2008, Ying worked for a short time in a local bakery, and also volunteered at ASIA — babysitting the children of other refugees who were attending ESL classes.

Today, Ying is focusing on continuing her education and taking care of her son. She has completed two levels of ESL and is now able to communicate and function much better. To further enhance her communication skills, she will begin Level 3 ESL classes in the near future, with a long-term goal of pursuing higher education in early childhood education or nursing. And while she no longer spends a part of each day at the ASIA offices, Ying knows exactly where to turn for help with adjusting to her American way of life.

ASIA’s mission is to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Northeastern Ohio to access quality, culturally and linguistically appropriate information and services. To learn more, go to, or call 216-881-0330 (Cleveland) or 330-535-3263 (Akron).

United Way of Greater Cleveland is committed to creating hope and opportunities by providing funding to 202 area health and human services programs which in turn provide support to more than 400,000 Greater Cleveland residents every year. Please give generously to the United Way campaign. Pledge securely online at