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Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota

"Ties that Bind: AAHWM Connects Hmong Families and Generations"

With more than twenty years of history, the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota (AAHWM) is a visible leader in community. AAHWM's mission is to strengthen Hmong families through education and leadership development for women, girls and families. With this family-centered approach, AAHWM works to provide education, support and advocacy to Hmong parents and children, to provide programs that maintain Hmong culture, heritage and language, to create leadership roles, self-esteem and self-confidence in Hmong women and girls and to develop a more effective organization that is known for being responsive to community needs. AAHWM's focus on responsiveness was particularly pertinent during its recent community engagement process.

AAHWM photo

In their community engagement process, AAHWM chose to examine what community needs have changed over the past twenty years and what AAHWM could do to be responsive to shifts. With the help of consultants, the organization devised focus groups to meet over a series of two months. The organization deliberately chose to mix their various kinds of stakeholders-including board members, staff, volunteers, and program participants-as a way to enrich the focus groups' dialogues. Consistent with AAHWM's family-centered approach, each focus group member also interviewed one or two additional friends or family members to allow for more voices to emerge in the process.  

By the closure of its focus group meetings, a list of priorities arose for AAHWM. As these community issues surfaced, AAHWM began to see more clearly how family issues (such as marital stress, lack of resources for parents, and the tokenism of elders' roles) are deeply affected by and connected to economic and cultural struggles (such as home foreclosures, job loss, gang violence, and youth crime).

This finding prompted AAHWM to think about alignment of all its programs and services. For the first time, the organization is more intentional about identifying gaps in its existing capacity, structures, and systems in order to become more effective. This was enlightening for AAHWM because although one of its major goals is to be responsive to community, it had yet to incorporate consistent internal and external evaluation and reflection into its work of the past twenty years. It became an exciting new realization and direction for the organization.

"In order for us to create a lasting impact in our community, we must rethink how we practice our work and design our programs." -Ly Vang, Executive Director of AAHWM

Another important outcome of AAHWM's community engagement process was that it allowed its leaders to deepen links with other local AAPI organizations. At this point, AAHWM would like to engage in collaborative efforts that build on each group's strengths. "Among all of our organizations, we need to make changes that consider community issues. We need to share information with each other and come together and work together," says Ly Vang, Executive Director.

Going forward, AAHWM is addressing the challenge of how to internalize what the organization's stakeholders have learned. In considering how to align its programs and articulate its gaps in capacity, AAHWM is paving the way for family-centered approaches and successes for the next twenty years-and beyond.