Lao Fresno Community Shares Mental Health Needs during Listening Session

Fresno, CA—Last month, SEARAC partnered with Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM) and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) for an in-person listening session that explored mental health needs and access among adult Lao community members in Fresno, home to the fifth largest Laotian population in the country.1 In addition to sharing information on how to navigate and access available systems for emotional support, the event included cultural activities and performances, as well as a keynote speaker to initiate conversations about mental health.

Youth performers with Lao Community Cultural Center of Fresno created energy and excitement for the program through live dance performances. FIRM Executive Director Christine Barker and SEARAC California Deputy Director Mandy Diêc, all translated by Vicki Kham, welcomed guests with the intent to provide space for community members to share their perspectives about mental health in Fresno County. The program continued with a personal, yet insightful keynote from Diane Phakonekham, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California, addressing the importance of seeking and receiving mental health support for impacted families.
Participants shared that mental health systems can improve individual support systems, especially for older adults who need culturally and linguistically competent providers and programs. Furthermore, they expressed that community organizations like FIRM have been vital resources to offer opportunities for case management, social gatherings, and workshops tailored to Lao community members.
Participants also agreed that opportunities like this listening session provide the relief they have needed to connect more deeply with their mental wellness, their families, and community peers because they feel seen and heard.
“It was a special day, being with community and sharing space that allowed us to honor SEAA histories, identities, and experiences,” Diêc said. “At least 5% of Fresno’s residents identify as Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian, or Vietnamese2 – with the Laotian community representing the third largest Laotian population in the country. The event uplifted the resilience and mental health care needs in the community, as well as the power of language, food, music, and joy as part of community connection and healing.”
“This was the biggest event in person for the Laotian community in Fresno since the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jack Chang, FIRM Director of Special Projects. “There were a lot of positive energies moving around throughout the entire event. Special thanks to our partners SEARAC, CPHEN, MHSOAC, and local community leaders for creating this beautiful, peaceful and successful space for our Laotian community to enjoy and voice our experiences and thoughts on mental health.”
1. Due to data limitations, figures for Laotians based on single-race population only, regardless of Hispanic origin. See methodology for more detail. Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2017-2019 American Community Survey (IPUMS).
2. The Census uses Laotian to encompass all ethnic groups from Laos but excludes Hmong and Iu Mien. Source: AAPI Data, detailed origin for Asians by County, based on 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
Photo captions (from top to bottom):
1. Group photo of FIRM & SEARAC teams in Fresno, CA, dressed formally and in traditional Lao and Vietnamese attire. From right to left: Jack Chang, Director of Special Projects, FIRM; Nary Rath, CA Program Manager, SEARAC; Mandy Diêc, CA Deputy Director, SEARAC; Thuy Do, CA Program Manager, SEARAC; Christine Barker, Executive Director, FIRM; Vicki Kham, KP MH Case Manager, FIRM. (Photo by Allen Keo)
2. Group facilitator Sid Vixay with community members in the Lao in-language group during the listening session on FIRM’s campus in Fresno, CA. (Photo by Allen Keo)
3. Community members Thongdy Mangala and Sok Heang Teng in line for delicious lunch catered by Lao catering businesses, Fresno, CA. (Photo by Allen Keo)
4. Keynote Speaker Diane Phakonekham, Executive Director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central California, with community guests at the FIRM listening event, Fresno, CA. (Photo by Allen Keo)