YPN5Q is a weekly Q&A series spotlighting the state’s top young business and civic leaders and creative minds — professionals propelling change through entrepreneurship, the arts, public service, social media, and community involvement.
This week we hear from Bao Vang, associate program officer at the Northwest Area Foundation, a nonprofit that supports efforts across eight states to reduce poverty.
Before joining the Northwest Area Foundation, Vang was the leadership program coordinator at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
She has also worked with the Lao Hmong Community, Inc., in Detroit, Mich., and the Hmong American Partnership in St. Paul.
Vang is an active member of the Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy – Minnesota Chapter, the Hmong Women’s Giving Circle, and was on the capital campaign committee for the Asian Pacific Cultural Center.
Name: Bao Vang
Residence: St. Paul
Current job title: Associate Program Officer
Current employer: Northwest Area Foundation
1. What is your most marked personality trait?
My big laughter and my loud voice. I do try to tone it down when I’m with people I’ve just met.
2. What was your first job?
The summer I was 14, I worked as a waitress at a small hamburger and root beer float drive-in diner in Detroit, Mich. Cars would pull up, order, and I would take the food orders out to the cars and hang the orders on their windows.
3. How did you become involved in your current line of work?
My family came over to America in 1976 after the Secret War in Laos, which was part of the larger Vietnam War.
My father led a small group of soldiers who fought against the Lao communist government alongside the Americans. Because my father’s rank and associations, my family was one of the fortunate ones able to leave Laos and come to America via a refugee camp in Thailand.
Coming to America as refugees, my family’s first interactions here were with a nonprofit organization and with people who cared enough to support us.
I’ve always wanted to give back to the community and support people who may be less fortunate, so I’ve spent the majority of my career in the nonprofit sector.
The organizations and people who have helped my family get to where we are now are the reasons why I work in the nonprofit sector — currently in philanthropy.
4. What skills are important to succeed as a young professional today?
I think there are many skills that a young professional needs to have in his/her toolbox to be successful.
First, you need to be willing to learn. This means admitting that you may not have the answer or the right solution all the time. Sometimes you have to go through a process of discovery to even realize that you may not know something.
Second, you need to listen. Being able to listen with an open mind and an open heart is key. You don’t have to agree with everything you hear, but being able to listen well and understand multiple perspectives will help in making key decisions in life.
Another invaluable skill is to treat people how you would want to be treated. If you can treat people with respect, they will treat you with respect.
Lastly, smile a lot. Smile while you are doing something you don’t like and think happy thoughts — it can make the day go by faster and it will help you see things in a positive manner.
5. Who are your role models?
One of my role models is my family’s immigration sponsor, Anne Whiting, a professor of biology at Houghton Wesleyan College. She was one of the key people who helped bring my family to America.
Whiting encouraged her church to sponsor a Hmong refugee family; if she hadn’t opened her heart and her home, my family could have been in a Thai refugee camp for months.
Whiting helped my parents adjust to life in America and raised me for 10 years. She imparted the values, beliefs, compassion and work ethic I have today.
In 1994, Anne passed away from complications of breast cancer. Her death left a huge void in my life.
I take comfort in knowing she taught me well and that I am the person I am today because of her.
My other role models are my parents, who made huge sacrifices to ensure our family’s freedom and well-being.
When we came to America, my parents did everything they could to make sure my brothers and I would be successful. They allowed me to go and live with Whiting when I was 8 years old. Only now that I have two children of my own do I understand that sacrifice.
I’m still trying to make something of myself so that my parents can be proud of me and so that I will be a good role model for my children.
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