CINCINNATI (July 7, 2022) — Thuy Dinh was 9 years old when her family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam. They didn’t have much, so she was grateful that she and her brother received school supplies from Sister Mary Catherine, a nun at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Center in Norwood.
“She was just like an angel,” says Dinh, who is now 41 and director of the youth ministry at Our Lady of Lavang Vietnamese Catholic Community in Elmwood Place.
Dinh never forgot that kindness. So, when she learned about United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Backpacks for Success program – and its goal to collect, assemble and distribute 1,500 backpacks filled with school supplies for students in Hamilton County – she immediately saw an opportunity to pay it forward.
“As a community, most of our families are immigrants,” she says. “We came to the United States with nothing. United Way, other nonprofit organizations and many churches helped our families get our feet on the ground.
“And now, we’re teaching the second generation – our youth – to give back, be a good person and help others.”
It’s a lesson the youth are taking to heart.
“I always have school supplies, but I know some kids don’t,” says Anna Tran, 13. “Being able to help those kids feels really good.”
“Volunteering makes me feel like a better person,” says Jack Tran, 15.
The 30-member youth group enlisted several businesses to help, including Tasty Pho & Crawfish Bar in West Chester. From 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays in June, diners enjoyed unlimited crawfish for $30, with all proceeds benefiting Backpacks for Success.
The restaurant’s owner, Dung Nguyen, said he arrived in America in 1992 with “nothing. Not a penny. I worked real hard. Seven days a week.”
“He wants to give back,” says his wife, Nancy Phan.
Others supporting the project included Ambiance Nail Salon & Spa in West Chester’s Voice of America Centre; Costco in Deerfield Township; and Son Phan, whose YouTube channel has 195,000 subscribers. In addition, youth group members received donations from their families and members of their church. And each youth is personally responsible for filling one backpack with supplies for a child in elementary school.
Backpacks for Success is just the most recent example of how the youth group is serving the community, says group leader Andi Nguyen, 35. Projects in the past year have included serving the homeless and volunteering for a food pantry.
“We like to spread the love to other people,” she says, “by being united.”