This story is reposted from Fresno State News, as written by Dr. Randy Nedegaard, professor in the Department of Social Work Education.

Ta Vang is a 2022 master’s of social work graduate of Fresno State and a member of the first graduating cohort from a Latino/Hmong grant in the Department of Social WorkFresno State received the $1.9 million grant, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, to provide advanced training to deliver culturally responsive behavioral health services to the Latino/Hispanic and Hmong populations in the Central Valley. 

Cher Teng Yang was her instructor for a class designed to help grantees provide more effective cultural and linguistic prevention, intervention, and treatment in behavioral health for the Hmong population. He recalls how helpful Vang was in the class, tutoring her classmates on Hmong conversation, language and behavior as well as sharing her personal experiences.  

“Ta Vang was key in connecting the dots of this course with her classmates, the Hmong community and the community at large,” Yang said.

After graduation, Vang landed a position in the Fresno Unified School District, where she could put her Pupil Personnel Services credential to work. Her job involves working with school-aged children, but she ends up working with the parents of these children as well. 

When asked how her training impacts her current work, Vang immediately identified how she approaches assessments at school differently now, as opposed to before her involvement with the grant. 

In particular, her focus on cultural and spiritual practices has changed. Before, she would assess these areas adequately, but now they are given special emphasis. The importance of providing culturally responsive services has become far more evident to her.

“A lot of families I work with don’t understand mental health, don’t like to talk about it, and feel that it is a taboo topic. Part of my job is to reduce the stigma and to provide ongoing education,” Vang said. “But stigma is hard to fight. For instance, one of the students I see weekly asked me recently ‘do you think I’m crazy?’ I was surprised because we’ve seen each other for a while and have a strong relationship. When I asked her why she asked, she indicated that she thought she might be crazy just because she is talking with a social worker.” 

One of the courses Vang took as part of the grant focused on Hmong and Southeast Asian families. 

“My experience has been that these families generally have more resistance to western mental health concepts, whether it be due to factors such as intergenerational trauma or their experiences,” she said. “For instance, one mom asked me – ‘Are you Hmong’ and ‘Are you a social worker?’ She was surprised to find someone who is Hmong working in behavioral health and being so open to talking about these things. Some can find it really hard to talk about mental health topics because even if they have a better understanding of mental health, many of their family members don’t understand it that way.” 

“Being born and raised in the Central Valley, I wouldn’t have been able to understand some of these issues in the community as well if I hadn’t been part of this grant. The community engagement part of the training was especially helpful.” 

The grant is a four-year grant that will ultimately award stipends and training to 76 master’s of social work students over a four-year period.

Learn more.