Danita Huynh
Danita Huynh

Danita Huynh has worked as the manager of early childhood programs at IRCO, an organization that provides a range of services for immigrants and refugees in the Portland area for twenty years. During this time, she has served with hundreds of families. But one sticks with her more than any other.

When a Vietnamese family reached out to IRCO, they had recently had a baby boy born prematurely: only 1 pound 5 ounces. The family knew they needed help, but they didn’t know where to find it. They had just arrived from Vietnam, spoke no English and they had no idea where to turn. IRCO supported them by doing home health visits and connecting them to community resources.

Now, two years later, the whole family is doing well. Danita describes the boy as a “miracle baby” because, given his circumstances, it was far from a given that he would be doing as well as he is.

The efforts of Danita and her staff at IRCO seem above and beyond, but every family that comes through their door receives this support. IRCO’s early childhood staff do home visits and facilitate group sessions for refugee and immigrants parents of young children. In many ways, IRCO staff serve as cultural navigators, helping these newcomers to understand the foreign culture in which they now find themselves. IRCO’s work ranges from direct education, teaching families about child abuse prevention, developmental stages, and kindergarten prep, to helping these families to connect to resources in the community that can help them.

One resource that she says many have recently found useful is the website Vroom, which has both an app as well as booklets, translated into several languages, with information about activities parents can do with their kids to help brain development. Danita says that having something that helps know what to do with their kids at any age to help support their development is incredibly helpful for immigrant and refugee families.

Asked what advice she can offer to child care providers working with immigrant and refugee children, Danita says, “Keep in mind the trauma that many experienced on the way to the United States.” Refugee children exhibiting non-typical behavior may be a sign that they have experienced trauma. It’s useful, Danita says, to talk to the parents about potential trauma so that child care providers can best care for their children. And, she says, it’s important to “become knowledgeable about how to work with kids who have experienced trauma.” While being proficient in trauma-informed care is a long process, The Greater Good Project from UC Berkley is a great beginning resource.

According to Danita, one issue is that there are not enough child care providers with culturally-specific knowledge about the diverse people who now call Portland home. IRCO now has a program to help immigrants and refugees who want to become child care providers to navigate the certification process. As more people with this cultural knowledge become child care providers, the quality of care will increase for all children.

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For those interested in supporting the work of IRCO, the organization posted the following update shortly after President Trump released his second executive order.

In light of today’s new Executive Order signed by President Trump, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization remains firmly committed to providing services for all immigrants and refugees living in Oregon who come here seeking a better life. The Executive Order, which suspends the US refugee program for 120 days, limits travel from citizens of 6 countries to the U.S., and reduces the number of refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000 will prevent thousands fleeing persecution during the largest displacement crisis in our history from receiving protection. Immigrants and refugees remain vital to who we are as a nation; they bring innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to our economy, start businesses, buy homes, and enrich our culture. We believe that this order runs counter to who we are as a nation, and we strongly urge all Oregonians to remain supportive of those who seek peace, safety, and freedom in the United States.

Together, we can support immigrants and refugees. Start by visiting our website. You can also take these steps:
1. Set up a monthly donation to IRCO, or make a one-time gift.
2. Sign up to volunteer.
3. Call your federal representatives and tell them you support refugee resettlement and resources to help immigrants and refugees. You can find your representatives here.
4. Hire immigrants and refugees.
5. Participate in local initiatives or events that support the immigrant and refugee community, such as rallies, fundraisers, and town halls.
6. Report harassment: immigrants and refugees may be afraid to report harassment. If you witness something, speak out by reporting a problem to the police and to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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