What is the Lao Community Service Center of Washington?
“Founded in 2016, The Lao Community Service Center of Washington (LCSC) is a non-profit community organization that assists refugees and immigrants with social, cultural, and educational services. LCSC’s mission is to unite and strengthen the Lao Community in the Pacific Northwest.” –LCSC
In the 3 years since their debut, they’ve managed to put together language learning courses, community events like: pageants, seasonal festivals with focal changes, music concerts, and more! Best of all–they’re nowhere near done.
All proceeds go towards providing the community much needed services, holding fundraising events–and, of course, the ultimate goal of having a Lao Community Center of our very own: to build a home for all the events and bouns we could ever want to throw. I can’t tell you how amazing that would be for our community.
I managed to finagle an interview with Executive Director of LCSC, Kayla Somvilay to get her thoughts on her vision, fundraising, events, and her focus on the next generation.
Sai Sisavatdy: Wow, what an event, huh? Thanks for giving me an opportunity to chat with you about LCSC’s 1st Annual Miss Lao Washington pageant, and LCSC, in general. There were kinks–but what you’re trying to do for the community is a pretty big and incredible deal. What would you change about how this pageant went, for the next one?
Kayla Somvilay: Being that this is the first–there’s alot of room for improvement. I have no pageantry experience but it was an event similar enough to Nang Sangkhan. So I knew that we would be able to connect with the community. That this is something they’d come out to support. I think there were a lot of learning lessons. I want the next one to be shorter, more structured–and maybe have the contestants get out and mingle with the crowd more. Especially with their family and friends. The families were all waiting to take pictures with their respective contestant. Maybe try some form of electronic scoring, as well.
SS: What were your hopes for this pageant?
KS: I really wanted to bring the community together during Lao New Year and to unite the community. The pageant was focused on our community, culture, talent, cultivating the next generation of women leaders, pursuing higher education, pulling our youth together, and finding the next role models to lead the next generation forward. Yet, somehow, we still have to bridge the generation gap as well.
SS: That’s not a long list at all.
KS: I know. It’s a lot. But they’re all needed and worth pursuing for the community. We have that big goal of a community center that everyone can use and that can be the place to unite, but we still also have all the other services we want to make available for the community, so it’s a balance.
And then, there’s always the need for volunteers. We’ve only been around for 3 years–so there’s lots of areas we can still work on. We really have to rely on everyone’s volunteer spirit and that’s a huge part of our success. You have to start somewhere and volunteers are always needed. The base amount of volunteers you have access to, gives you the avenues you can pursue. They are the ones that also help with the brainstorming of ideas as well as the physical aspects of putting together an event. So the amount and quality of volunteers, along with funding, and other factors, really dictates the kinds of events we can put together for the community.
SS: San Diego has a dragon boat festival, other cities grab other events to raise money–why a pageant?
KS: Wat Mixay already holds Nang Sangkhan for Lao New Year up here, so we couldn’t do that one, too. My vision is to bring all our community together. For example, what about the non-buddhists? Holding a pageant and community events outside of the temple allows them to also participate in all the other aspects of our community, not just the religious one. These guys also care about higher education, raising our community, etc.
The pageant was perfect because the contestants really had to compete for it. And I invited a diverse group of judges to be inclusive of all our ethnic communities. I also wanted the focus of this pageant to be less about a pageant and more about education. Our focus was always about education, community involvement, learning about the Lao culture (how to nop, etc.), and leadership training. They had to work hard to win/reach a goal. Hopefully it builds role models for the next generation.
At the end of the day, we want to build youth leaders amongst this 1st generation/2nd generation group of young women.
SS: What other avenues bring in revenue for you besides the fundraising events?
KS: We do have annual membership dues. It’s really low, because we want to have participation. So it’s not really a game changer for us. There are around 300 volunteers, and of those 300, 70 are paid memberships.
SS: What does LCSC need to be more successful?
KS: Volunteers! For folks that want to volunteer–we need more volunteers. We need more people to brainstorm new events. The goal is to have an actual community center for our community that we can all utilize. It would be neutral space and can truly help bring us all together. Each event raises awareness, more than money. We hope that that awareness will lead to larger gains in the future. We spend a lot of money to produce events. Service is a part of what we provide, so we still want and need to provide all the services we currently have like language courses and services for the elderly, on top of getting that community center.
SS: How do you see the other locally based organizations fitting in with LCSC?
KS: Every group provides such a different focus for the community. And we need all of the groups here to stay relevant and strong. They provide what we don’t and we provide what we do. But if we could all come together to raise funds for a community center–I think that would help us all in the long run.
SS: What’s coming up for LCSC? Any information we can help push out?
KS: Yes! During the summer we put on LaoFest, so come out and support us! LaoFest is more focused on the small business community and bringing that side of our community together, with vendors and markets. We try to make each event different but relevant to the community we’re representing. Lao school is also coming back soon, so don’t forget to come sign up!
SS: Thanks so much for your time, your invite, and your active involvement with the community. I hope we start to see real gains and LCSC achieves its dream of a community center! It would be amazing for us. To put that much time and work into our community can only strengthen it.
KS: Thank you!
For those in the Pacific Northwest or for those heading there to visit–be sure to check out their website and calendar of events! With so many amazing and dedicated groups of people wanting to lift the Lao community up–there’s always something happening!