When Oanh Bui immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 2008 with her daughter, “Tiny,” there was no support group to help Vietnamese-speaking parents of students with special needs navigate the thicket of school districts, government organizations and insurance companies to ensure appropriate care for their children.

Now, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Oanh, whose daughter is a day student at The Guild School, emigres from Vietnam can find support and assistance accessing high-quality special-education services for their children.

Oanh last month received the 2019 Champion Award from the Autism Insurance Resource Center (AIRC), part of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, in recognition of her commitment to her community for establishing the Circle of Vietnamese Parents, which has grown to more than 200 families of children with special needs since its founding in 2012.

“Oanh is a real trailblazer and exemplifies what a passionate advocate can do for her child and for her community,” says Amy Weinstock, the director of AIRC. “She’s smart, passionate and relentless
and embodies all of the attributes of a champion. She’s physically small but her impact has been huge, and she has been a role model for so many others.”

Oanh started the Circle of Vietnamese Parents at a picnic gathering, determined to help other Vietnamese families who were failing to access available services because of language barriers, the social stigma of having a child with special needs or cultural differences. The group started with just a few families, but through word of mouth continues to grow.

“By the time the families would reach out, they would be in crisis and in heartbreaking situations,” recalls Oanh, who is also a member of The Guild's Youth Parent Advisory Council. “My hope is that through the Circle of Vietnamese Parents, we are able to catch the families earlier on, to share information, make them aware of the services that are available for their children and to empower parents.”

In addition to helping the children, the Circle of Vietnamese Parents serves as a support group for the families, provides an opportunity to share experiences, and brings together the parents and children so they can share their cultural identity.

Together with five other volunteer parents, Oanh recently organized a Vietnamese New Year’s event that attracted more than 400 people.

“We seek to support the parents emotionally and help the families as a whole,” Oanh says.