2019 HND IMPACT Award Winners

We are thrilled to present the five 2019 IMPACT Award winners. These outstanding individuals were selected because they exemplify the conference theme, “Be Bold – Unleash Your Potential!” We look forward to honoring them alongside you at the HND Leadership Banquet on April 20, 2019, at the DoubleTree Hotel in San Jose, California.

Neng Thao – Madison, WI

Neng Thao is a first-generation Hmong American and the oldest child to Hmong immigrant parents from Laos. Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, and being the oldest child, he faced language challenges and helped to raise his younger siblings all while striving for the best. Nonetheless, Neng persevered and got accepted to Harvard University and graduated with a degree in Regenerative Biology.

This is Neng’s story: He did the immigrant success story thing – born in a refugee camp, did well in school, got a nice desk job. Life was good, but he wasn’t 100% happy. He enjoyed his job(s), but he wasn’t in love with them. Time was ticking, but he wasn’t as happy as he wanted to be, so he quit his job to pursue his dream of traveling the world full time. Now you can follow him on his global adventures on Neng Now, his Facebook page, where he chronicles all his travels around the world, living out of two bags: one for his clothes, the other for his camera gear.

Neng is artistic, and through his travel, has become an excellent videographer … or at least he’s trying to be. He says, “I want to connect people through my videos – share everyone’s lives with each other – everything weird, fine, and in between.”

How did this travel around the world start? Neng realized one day that he could always come back to teaching, but he was never going to be 24, healthy, and childless again. So, he left his job on December 10, 2017, and decided to start traveling. He arrived in Costa Rica on December 18, 2017, and the rest, like it has been said … you can watch in his videos.

Today, Neng wears a shirt with a smiley face on it because it reminds him why he started this journey in the first place: to build a happier, more fulfilling life. And he hopes it serves as a reminder for everyone else too – especially in our digital age.

Lar Yang – Fresno, CA

Lar Yang has loved art and has been drawing since his earliest memories. He studied Graphic Design at San Jose State but eventually transferred to Fresno State, where he majored in Fine Arts with an emphasis in Graphic Design. Yang quickly learned in this major, it wasn’t just painting and drawing; graphic design introduced him to advertising, media, marketing, mass communication, and other business classes as well.

Yang worked at various design and printing companies while in college. Working in the industry while studying design in school helped him to excel in both environments. Eventually, he started taking freelance graphic design projects. In 2000, he had enough clients to leave his full-time job, get his business license, and start operating Yang Design out of his garage. Yang Design turned 19 years old in 2019.

Yang says, “I am blessed that I have been able to make a living doing what I love.” The last 22 years in graphic design have allowed him to expand his business and do work that includes logo and identity systems, branding and marketing, packaging design, and web design and brochure systems. The diversity of Yang Design’s work in the last two decades includes local, national, and international clients in education, government, manufacturing, nonprofit organizations, and private industry.

In the last eight years, Yang Design added multimedia services, including radio and video commercials and digital marketing campaigns. Yang Design has also directed, produced, and worked on several documentaries, including a PBS Documentary titled “The Hmong and the Secret War,” as well as two short documentaries for FEMA, and a third about Muslim Americans for the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2008, Yang Design started Txhawb – The Hmong California Directory in an effort to build a unique resource that would catalog all of the Hmong businesses in Central California into a printed directory to support businesses within the community while delivering inspiring stories. Lar Yang was inspired to create the Txhawb Magazine was the fact that there was a real need for something like it and because he wanted to create a professional Hmong magazine. Impactful articles added a magazine element to the publication. The recent 2019 issue marks its twelfth year in print.

But the greatest and most rewarding thing he has done to date would have to be HmongStory40 (HS40). Lar Yang was the founder/project director of the Hmongstory40 Project. He said that “HS40 was truly a community grassroots effort where our community told our own stories, in our words, and everyone helped build the movement.” In two years, the HS40 project created an intimate exhibit that told the story of the Hmong American experience by tracing the journey from Laos and Thailand to California over the last 40 years. Over a period of three years, HS40 built a complete exhibit and moved it to three different cities: Fresno, Merced, and Sacramento. The three Hmongstory 40 exhibits drew over 80,000 visitors.

Yang is most proud of everyone who gave their heart to HS40 and the lasting friendships that were made between students, volunteers, community leaders and members, the professional community, talented artists, gifted writers, and especially the dedicated team members who all worked tirelessly to make Hmongstory 40 possible. 

Throughout his journey, he has been blessed to have met so many passionate people chasing their dreams. Listening to, and learning to understand, other people’s stories is the key to finding your own voice, strength, and success, Yang believes.

Leesai Yang – Sacramento, CA

Leesai Yang wears many hats, all of which demonstrate his passion and commitment to the community in the utmost heartfelt ways. First, Mr. Yang is a Deputy Sheriff who works to keep the community safe. His upbringing and determination brought him to where he is today. Growing up without a father was hard but it was harder without his mother when she remarried, and he had to go live with an older brother and sister-in-law. He grew up with many economic challenges, but that did not stop him from helping others. With his older brother’s guidance, love and support, Mr. Yang worked his way through high school and became the first Deputy Sheriff in his family.

Second, Mr. Yang is the founder of East Bay Asian Youth Center, where he spends most of his time advocating for troubled teenagers. Since he was a young teenager, he has successfully helped many troubled teenagers, including those in gangs, to continue their education and better themselves. Despite his busy schedule as Deputy Sheriff, Mr. Yang never neglected his passion to help troubled teenagers. He opened the East Bay Asian Youth Center to provide a safe place for troubled teenagers to seek support, guidance, and learn the skills they need to make a difference in their community.

Mr. Yang has hosted several summits and conferences to empower youth and provide them with educational opportunities. Specifically, his annual EBAYC Youth Summit at Sacramento State has empowered high school students through the many workshops and special guest speakers he organized for them. Another powerful event organized by Mr. Yang is the Young Women’s Empowerment Circle Conference, which has taught young girls self-esteem and confidence, as well as many other great empowering topics. He has also been invited to speak at several youth conferences and has collaborated with several organizations, agencies, and associations to develop resources and services for the youth. While many will find it difficult to work with challenging teenagers, Mr. Yang is a natural at connecting with them. This is evident, as youth continue to go to his center because of the love and compassion he has for them. They know that he has their best interest at heart.

Finally, Mr. Yang is also a very powerful mentor. Not only has he helped troubled teenagers with obtaining their high school diplomas and employment, but he has also helped teenagers eager to get involved with, and make a difference through, community work. He created the Youth Action Team (YAT), which has provided youth with opportunities to participate in community engagement. In fact, Mr. Yang has given leadership roles to many youth and allowed them to lead conferences and workshops.

Moreover, Mr. Yang has led two major projects in Sacramento. The first one was working with Mayor Darrell Steinberg to advocate and support Measure U to help allocate funds for youth programs in Sacramento, and the second project was with the Sacramento Kids First Coalition to create a Sacramento Children’s Fund for youth development and programs. Mr. Yang is extremely hardworking and dedicated to serving the community, and he continues to tirelessly advocate for the better.

Bee T Yang – Clovis, CA

Mr. Bee T. (Cher Teng) Yang has a master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) and is currently a full-time lecturer at California State University, Fresno in the Department of Social Work. In addition, he serves as a faculty liaison to students placed in agency sites, keeping culture and cultural humility at the forefront of his philosophy. In his current capacity, Mr. Yang continues to support his past students and foster a new generation of Hmong and non-Hmong students to critically and more inclusively frame the Hmong identity with all of its complex constructs. 

Within the larger community, Mr. Yang is considered by many as an innovator, expert, teacher, and practitioner in Hmong cultural practices. He is highly regarded in the Hmong community as a community leader and is sought out for his knowledge and experience to perform and teach funeral and wedding ceremonies. 

As an innovator, Mr. Yang was one of a few Hmong individuals who initiated the bridge between the traditional Hmong cultural practices and the modern Western medicine practices. With his knowledge of the Hmong culture and its impact on the mainstream community, he has provided consultation to local government officials surrounding culturally significant issues impacting the Hmong community. 

Mr. Yang is also an expert in the Hmong funeral practice as a Txiv Xaiv. He has been performing Hmong funeral rituals for over 19 years. Coupled with his belief and passion for teaching cultural traditions to the youth and the ability to articulate the meaning of each steps in the ritual process, Mr. Yang continues to strike a unique balance between cultural preservation and cultural growth.

With his vast knowledge in the traditional Hmong rituals, Mr. Yang continues to support and teach through community organizations, Hmong TV, and Hmong radio. Through his own desire to share his knowledge, Mr. Yang established a virtual classroom and taught students from Laos and China, along with his students in the physical classroom setting. Many of his teachings can be found on YouTube. Currently, he has a team of students that he supports while they attend various Hmong funerals to perform the ritual as a Txiv Xaiv. 

Lastly, Mr. Yang has not retired his own practice. He continues to conduct many inter-racial marriages between Hmong and non-Hmong families alike, truly embracing and incorporating our traditions while living in America. He continues to provide guidance for appropriate procedures and relationship building between the two families and cultures.

ChongCher Lee – La Crosse, WI

ChongCher Lee has made an incredible impact in his community of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and is an outstanding reflection of true Hmong leadership. He and his family came to the United States in 1976. ChongCher earned a B.S. in Chemistry from UW-La Crosse in 1990 and began his career as a plant chemist for the G. Heileman Brewing Company for 10 years. In 2001, he founded and became the co-owner of Hmong’s Golden Eggroll, Inc., which is a Hmong fast food restaurant in La Crosse. 

The Hmong community in La Crosse had been challenged with finding a venue and community space for Hmong cultural events, especially Hmong funerals. This had been a challenge in the community since the late 1970s, when Hmong families began resettling there. One of many leadership positions held by ChongCher was as the President of the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association, where he was tasked with developing a plan to purchase a space of this kind for the community. He developed a capital campaign that including Hmong families who would invest in the project as collective founding members. In 2008, after raising over $1.1 million, the first Hmong cultural center in the state of Wisconsin was built. Mr. Lee’s vision established the Hmoob Cultural and Community Center (HCCC), which has become a cherished gathering place for the Hmong community to conduct cultural and social events. He also developed a strategy to maintain and continue the legacy of HCCC in 2012 through a sustainable revenue stream to support the center for the La Crosse Hmong community for the foreseeable future.

ChongCher has always been dedicated to ensuring that the Hmong culture is uplifted and preserved. Some of the recent events in this area include developing a Hmong community forum between clan leaders to eventually establish the Hmong Culture and Leadership Training Program in 2014. Over the past five years, this program has trained over 50 Hmong cultural practitioners to help sustain the practice of traditional Hmong wedding and funeral ceremonies.  In 2015, he and his wife donated funds necessary to continue the Hmong Language Program at the HCCC and to begin the Annual Hmong La Crosse History Day Celebration. 

Mr. Lee’s impact in the La Crosse community will surely impact many generations of Hmong leaders. His dedication should be recognized, and his story is an inspiration to all Hmong people.

YouTube Video Link of Chong Cher Lee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MStqfKlSmA4