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Central California Life Magazine

Assistance, Support and So Much More at the Fresno Center

Jan 26, 2018 04:03PM ● By Richard Melella

For the past eighteen years, Pao Yang has worked in multiple leadership roles in various non-profit organizations as well as in the post-secondary education sector. His current work in non-profit finds him leading the Fresno Center for New Americans now retitled The Fresno Center as their Executive Director.  His team of 32 staff members provides Holistic Cultural Education and Wellness, Mental Health Services to many families in need of resources to help acclimate to Fresno. 

Central California Life Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Yang and discuss the mission of the Fresno Center - as well as the services the agency offers to the community it serves.

The mission statement for the Fresno Center Facebook Website reflects a rather challenging  vision statement – “To assist individuals in becoming self-sufficient, self-fulfilled and productive members of the community while fostering cultural preservation and promoting cross cultural understanding.“ As the Center’s New Director, can you elaborate on that vision for our readers who may not be familiar with the Fresno Center for New Americans? How does the Fresno Center go about the goal of empowerment?

Certainly, the Fresno Center for New Americans was established in 1991 as a nonprofit organization, to provide services to the growing needs of Southeast Asian refugees in Fresno County. These services included education, employment networking services, social integration support, health education, and housing, but we’ve never been limited only to Southeast Asian refugees, refugees from many parts of the world also accessed our services. For example, our Russian speaking staff members and on-call workers can provide services to Russian, Somalis, and Middle Eastern refugees.

 Fresno Mayor Lee Brand with Pao Yang, Executive Director of The Fresno Center.

Our new name really reflects that- we want the new Fresno Center to really be all-inclusive and continue to provide integral services that equip new Americans with skills and tools to become contributing members of the community.  

There is a lot of moving pieces to your non-profit.  It sounds like the Fresno Center really provides so many vital support and educational resources for those in need of assistance. Please elaborate.

We really do a lot. The staff here is giving of their time and energy. The Fresno Center engages in issues that include health, education, employment services, immigration services, safety, research, advocacy, and civic participation. Our core values and beliefs are to respect human dignity by promoting equality and diversity in all cultures. We take pride in being a resource center for not only new Americans but for any group within our local Central Valley community in their search of “the American Dream.”

What are some of the services or resources that the center provides to the greater Fresno Community that it serves?

We have several excellent resources that benefit the community we serve. 

The Living Well Program - provides Mental Health Services to Southeast Asians. Informational and cultural workshops are available to our clients and providers. The Program is also a Mental Health training site that specializes in training bicultural and bilingual Southeast Asian mental health clinicians. 

Our California Reducing Disparities Project – is funded by the Mental Health Services Act of 2004. The project provides culturally and linguistically competent prevention and early intervention services. The focus is to create an improved health system that is accessible to all populations, including under served and vulnerable communities.

Our Covered California and Medicare Assistance Programs provide presentations to the general public and private organizations about the Affordable Care Act. This education includes types of health care coverage for families and individuals, such as Medi-Cal or private plans, based on their household size and annual income. We also help individuals and families apply for health care coverage (free of charge), whether they qualify for Medi-Cal or a Covered California plan.

Our FUSD Parent University support program works in partnership with Fresno Unified School District's Parent University program, we help families within the school district through various parent learning courses, assisting them with access to available resources, we encourage family engagement to achieve career ready graduates, and connect families to district and community to promote student achievement​. 

We also want to focus not only on parental engagement but obviously the whole family role in the educational development. The Building Healthy Community (BHC) Southeast Asian Parent Engagement Project goal is to help improve educational opportunities of Southeast Asian (Hmong, Lao, Cambodian) students and families, within Fresno Unified School District; Through family engagement and empowerment. The framework of this project is to increase the awareness of Southeast Asian parents by engaging them in their children's academic achievements and advocate for a positive and productive environment of a school setting to support students towards graduation.

Christine Alejo, program director for Holistic Educational Wellness Center.

The Holistic Cultural Education Wellness Center is a program of Fresno Center for New Americans with its partners, Promesa Behavioral Health and Youth Center for America. Funded by Fresno County’s Department of Behavioral Health through the Mental Health Service Act, HCEWC provides culturally and linguistically appropriate education, training, and linkage services to un-served and underserved individuals and groups who may typically not seek traditional Western (clinically based) mental health services. We are staffed with diverse Cultural Brokers who speak Spanish, Hmong, Lao, Khmer, and English.

Along that path our Horticultural Therapeutic Community Center- is 5 acres of a community Garden that provides farming land to 66 families. The garden gives a platform to engage in peer support, mental health delivery and engagement on matters that relate to mental wellbeing and mental health services, and to deliver mental health PEI activities in traditionally and culturally relevant environments. The HTCC strives to enhance existing community gardens as a platform for peer support activities in traditionally and culturally relevant environments to unserved and underserved suburban and rural communities.

 The Healing Garden at the Fresno Center

Our TEAM/CHANGES Program– is essentially an outreach program designed to educate Limited English Proficiency (LEP) community on telecommunications issues and choices.  Assist LEP clients with compliant resolution services and opportunity. The TEAM project provides educational workshops and informational materials on consumer protection. As part of the program, we help assist consumers with resources or disputes.  The Community Help and Awareness of Natural Gas and Electricity Services (CHANGES) program assists consumers with natural gas and electricity education and resources. The program includes advocating and assistance with negotiating payments and finding resources for the consumer.  

And finally, we have designed a Young Adult Empowerment & Advocacy Project- this project is a leadership and advocacy assistance resource for individuals of Southeast Asian descent to engage in civic work and proactively participate in policy-impacting activities. In addition, the program advocates for better quality healthcare services to low income Medi-Cal recipients and provides United States Citizenship education classes for participants with a goal of becoming a naturalized citizen.  We also provide services in assisting Southeast Asians to apply for their immigration or U.S. Citizenship application(s). 

Truly a wide range of support services to your constituents. As the Centers New Executive Director- What are some of the goals that you have for the center in the coming year?

I really have a full plate and I’m excited about the possibilities that are ahead of us. The Immediate goal for the Center is sustainability of our current programs.  Ensuring that our community is provided with the needed services and support. We will expand our immigration service to our diverse community within and outside of Fresno County. We will be working directly with California Department of Social Services –Immigration Department.  We will also bring back workforce development and work to expand health services to youths and young adults.

How do you secure funding for many of the projects that FCNA supports or sets out to accomplish?

It certainly takes committed fiscal support partners to make things happen! Money coming in is very important to our success. We are funded by many different partners who also work to ensure that low-income unserved underserved and hard to reach communities are provided equitable resources and opportunities.  Funders such as Fresno County, The California Endowment, Asian American Advancing Justice, Maguire Casey Foundation, California Department of Social Services, Parent University, PG&E, and Wells Fargo are among the partners we work with to secure services.  I am very grateful for the partnerships that have been established and look forward to adding new partners in 2018!

 Pao Yang with Board Members Brian and Deborah

So really the impression that the Fresno Center is primarily a resource support center mainly for Asian Americans in Fresno is inaccurate?

Yes. The Fresno Center is now a hub for all individuals in the community who may need assistance and support with a variety of services.  We have 32 culturally and linguistically staff that speak 8 different languages in English, Spanish, Thai, Hmong, Lao, Khmer, Hindi, and Punjab. That said, I don't want to minimize the great work that we have done over the years and will continue to provide to our Southeast Asian Families.  In fact, I was very honored to travel to Washington DC recently to accept on behalf the entire staff here at the center-  a Lifetime Achievement Award for the work they have provided to the Southeast Asian Community. 

In Washington DC to accept Lifetime Agency Award on behalf of the Fresno Center for New Americans and the support work the Center has provided to the Southeast Asian Community.

What a great acknowledgment that must have been. How do individuals in the community take advantage of the support services that the Center provides to the community?

My staff does an excellent job getting the word out. Folks like Christine Alejo, program director for Holistic Educational Wellness Center and Dr. Ghia Xiong director of the Living Well Program conduct weekly outreach at different events hosted either by us or our partners.  We are on ethnic TVs and Radio stations (Hmong, Lao, and Spanish) and conduct TV and Radio talk’s shows.  Many of our clients are referral but community members can either call us at 559-255-8395

Thank you Pao for the service that the Fresno Center for New Americans provides to the community it serves. We certainly wish you and your staff the best in 2018!

Thank you, Richard. It was a pleasure informing your readers as to the services we provide to the community. I want to encourage all Cen Cali Readers to visit our new website at

 Fresno Center Staff   

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Happy Reading,

Karen Maroot