UNAVSA thrives on the power of its community, and the family program during the annual conference offers attendees a chance to begin fostering connections with other North American Vietnamese students and alumni. Family leaders, the heads of each small group of 10-15 attendees, work for several months before the conference to make sure their family members bond with each other, other families, and ultimately leave the weekend knowing they’ve created several lasting friendships.

Behind the scenes, members of the family programming committee work almost an entire year in advance to plan bonding activities, coordinate family games, and mentor family leaders. We spoke to both family programming team members, as well as family leaders, from past and present UNAVSA conferences to get greater insight on how they’ve helped shape one of the most memorable aspects of conference.

Chris Pham, UNAVSA-14 Family Programming Director

I’ve attended three conferences: two as a family member and one as a family leader. At conference you meet and friend wonderful people, get inspired, learn about other regions, and become a better leader. As great as all of that is, family programming is what always had me coming back. It’s an incredible experience being paired up with complete strangers and having  that initial feeling of awkwardness turn into caring and camaraderie.  

I deeply adore family programming, and as soon as New Orleans was announced as the location for conference a vision started to take shape. I wanted to make the vision a reality, and the thought of working with people all over the continent for a singular purpose sounded amazing! All the pieces of the puzzle fell perfectly: UNAVSA-13 just ended, I finished my first year as a family leader, I was looking to be more involved, and New Orleans was announced as the winning bid for UNAVSA-14 Conference.

As a family leader, I learned there is no absolute right way to do something. Each family leader had their own distinct style of raising their littles, and each one of them was right. For family, you don’t change who you are to fit the situation, because family will love you for who you are. I was super nervous about being a family leader, but I learned you don’t second guess yourself. If you have even the slightest inkling that this is something you might want to do, then follow your heart and do your absolute best, and whatever the outcome is you’ll know you left nothing on the table. Plus, it’ll be something you’ll remember and wish you could do again.

James Choe, UNAVSA-13 Family Leader

James with UNAVSA-13 Hospitality Director Charlie, and UNAVSA-13 Family Programming Director Vanessa

I was inspired by my own Family Leader as an attendee at the previous UNAVSA. His encouragement made my first conference incredibly inspiring and enjoyable. Family activities weren’t always perfect, but connecting with everyone came easily and in one short weekend I had made an amazing group of friends. When family leader applications came the following year, it was my family leader’s encouragement that made me (along with other members of my family) want to provide a positive conference experience to future attendees.

Beforehand, I was an attendee in a family for the previous UNAVSA. My favorite part of being a family leader was having the opportunity to play a key role in facilitating the friendships between attendees in my family as well as between families.

If you are passionate about reaching out to attendees and providing an inspirational UNAVSA experience you will do an amazing job at being a family leader! There isn’t one way to be an awesome family leader, and you will have the support of the every other family leader as well as the directors to help you along the way. Most of all remember your family is just as amped to have an awesome time at UNAVSA as you are, so have fun and stay positive!

Thu-Van Tran, UNAVSA-14 Family Programming Committee

Ever since I attended my first UNAVSA Conference, I always found passionate individuals who inspired me to be the best person I could be. Eventually I evolved from being just an attendee to an actress to a co-script writer on the UNAVSA-12 ENT Committee, and then I took a break during UNAVSA-13. There’s something about going from being on staff to back to just an attendee, and after UNAVSA-13, I decided that I wanted to try for staff again!

Other than being an Events Coordinator and VSA officer forced into the position of family leader amongst my peers and leading a family of high schoolers through a leadership camp in the Southwest region, I’m probably the least experienced family committee member there is! That being said, I was very inspired by UNAVSA-13’s family programming committee, and I felt like I could help build the momentum even further. Also, I have a lot of games that I’ve been itching to test out!

As an oldie and an alumni of UNAVSA, I will give you the most generic advice anyone will ever, EVER give to you: just be yourself and push yourself past your comfort zone when you’re with your family at conference. When your family has a better understanding of who you are, they’re able to play off your strengths to help in the games and team building activities. As each family member’s individuality comes together, that’s when you all can truly become the “key” to success!

Birdo family helping each other spread their wings!

Vuong Nguyen, UNAVSA-13 Family Leader

I wanted to get involved in family programming because I believe UNAVSA’s goal of empowering the next generation of Vietnamese-Americans aligns with mine. It’s an organization I’m passionate about supporting. I feel like UNAVSA has given me so much, and I want to give back in anyway I can.

My favorite part about being a family leader was seeing the faces of the kids in my family smile.  From the bonding activities that made us cry, to all of us eating banh mi in my room, to sharing our experiences during conference; those moments made me smile because I saw it in their faces, that UNAVSA was something positive and eye opening to them. It’s happy knowing that feeling and watch them experience their first UNAVSA.

I was very nervous about being a family leader, but being a family leader doesn’t mean that the spotlight is on you all the time. Your family members are all unique individuals. Get to know each one and encourage them to bond with the rest of the family. If you be yourself, they will love you for who you are.

Louis Lam, UNAVSA-14 Family Programming Committee

I first experienced family programming as a family member at UNAVSA-9.  I loved it so much and was so glad to see family programming continue through other regional and UNAVSA conferences. I was family leader both at my regional camp and for UNAVSA-13. This year, I  wanted to bring new, innovative ideas to the family committee.  My friends from my past UNAVSA families are some of my closest friends, and family committee is my chance to be a part of making new friendships for myself and other people.

For those who might be nervous about their family, or the family program, don’t be afraid to take that first step out of your comfort zone!  The first step is always the hardest, but once you take it, it’s smooth-stepping from there!  If you show your enthusiasm, people will reciprocate with their own!

Hai-Yen with her APEX Family Programming committee

Hai Yen Diep, UNAVSA-14 Family Programming Committee

I actually served as family leader for both UNAVSA-12 and UNAVSA-13. Both were wonderful experiences and I was spoiled with great family members and fantastic programming.  I was also the Family Director for SWUVSA’s Apex-2 this year and learned so much about the hard work it takes to plan everything for the conference family experience. After attending UNAVSA for so many years, I wanted to take on a larger challenge and have a bigger part in shaping the experience for future attendees.

Chris Pham as Family Director really pushed me to step up to take on a bigger role for UNAVSA.  We were fellow family leaders last year at UNAVSA-13 and I was so impressed with his creativity and how low key he was about his big ideas.  I have enjoyed my experiences as an attendee and family leader, but joining staff has been eye opening in what happens behind the scene.  It’s been stressful to balance everything but I am so glad to be part of the Family Committee.

My favorite part about being a family leader is the connections I made with my family members.  I have known few members prior to being assigned to my family and it is such an adventure learning about their background, their story, their personality.  I still keep in contact with family members throughout the years to congratulate them on accomplishments and successes, to catch up, and just to reminisce on UNAVSA memories.

Terry Le, UNAVSA-14 Family Programming Committee

After being as a family leader during UNAVSA-12, I enjoyed watching those in my family develop and grow. During UNAVSA-11, I had a wonderful family and wanted to share and have the attendees enjoy each other’s company. Since I went alone to UNAVSA-10, I met everyone on my own, and wanted my future work to help build bridges between new attendees and make it easier to make friends.

To new attendees: keep an open mind, really put yourself out there but be true to yourself. I understand that it’s nerve-wracking, but ask questions to get to know each other. If anything, stick with your family and really get to know each other, and bring in an idea to collaborate your family with your friends’ families for more bonding!

Kavi Vu, UNAVSA-12 Family Leader

Diglett family showing spirit!

I got involved with Family Programming because in past years, I had done a lot of performing on stage, but nothing that gave me that direct connection with attendees. I knew that I had the energy and commitment that could make someone’s experience better at UNAVSA, so I gave it a go! Since then, many of my own family members have become family leaders, which I like to think I may have had a part in that!

My favorite part about being a family leader was the deeper connection I was able to form with my family members. Delirious late night tam su’s and cramming to eat banh mi in a hotel room will do that to you, and there’s not much more fulfilling than giving someone a sense of belonging.

Some advice that I think can work for everyone: don’t hold back. You only have a few days with these Powell, and afterwards you all go back to your lives and your responsibilities back at home. Don’t let those would-be precious moments go to waste by staying in your comfort zone or being too shy to fully participate. Take in these magical moments and embrace the beautiful and crazy adventure that is UNAVSA!

Michelle Tran, UNAVSA-13 Family Leader

Prior to applying for UNAVSA-13’s Family Leader program, I was a Family Leader for MAUVSA’s Leadership Camp for two years and the Family Programming Director for MAUVSA’s 4th Annual Advanced Conference. I decided to apply for Family Leader, because my past two UNAVSA family leaders left such a last impression on me that I wanted to continue their “legacy,” and pass on that experience to others, as well.

My favorite part about being a family leader was the opportunity to build strong relationships with my family, the Family Committee, and the other Family Leaders. I loved being a catalyst for the attendees, especially those who were enthusiastic to build lasting relationships. I also loved the late night Google Hangouts with the other Family Leaders while we planned gifts for our kiddos and shared ideas with one another.

My Family Leader experience encouraged me to continue seeking for opportunities of involvement and gave me the push to apply for UNAVSA’s Social Media Manager position on the Marketing & Public Relations Team!

I can’t speak for all alumni, but I was worried that once I was no longer an undergrad, I would no longer be involved in the UNAVSA community. However, when I was a Family Leader, I met a lot of other individuals in very different points of our lives — some of us were graduated, some just started university, some have been in the workforce for years — but no matter where we were in life, what mattered is that we were all there together in the Family Leader experience.

Isabelle and her Daisy family during family games

Isabelle Ngo, UNAVSA-14 Family Programming Committee

The first time I was part of Family Programming was at last year’s UVSA-Midwest’s 14th VIA-1 Conference; I was on Family Programming Committee and a family leader! This was my first leadership position and since then, many of my leadership positions have been related to Family Programming because I value creating an inclusive environment and networking opportunities for others. Within the past year I’ve expanded my leadership experience to different regions such as being part of SWUVSA’s Apex-2 Family Programming Committee, MAUVSA’s MACVI Family Leader, UNAVSA-13 Family Leader, and now part of UNAVSA-14’s very own FAM Committee!

My first UNAVSA conference was UNAVSA-12 in Seattle. This was a month after I ended my freshman year of college, so I was still young, confused, and fresh to VSA. I had applied for a scholarship to attend UNAVSA-12 simply because I enjoy writing, and I ended up getting it! I wasn’t entirely sure what UNAVSA was though… but I quickly learned that it is an amazing network of resources that allows members of the community to gain leadership and management skills. My first UNAVSA Conference was incredibly empowering, and because of that I want to work within the system to build structures that foster leadership development and progress for the Vietnamese American Community.

I absolutely love the pride that comes with being a family leader! Whether it’s creating a family chant, creating a totem, making gifts for my family, or buying food for all my family members, I am always dedicated to investing time and energy into my family. When conference rolls around, it gets me so excited seeing my family rep our family chant with matching swag- it’s what makes each family unique and I love it!  Being a family leader requires you to adapt to different situations and personalities, so I’ve learned to recognize my own and other people’s emotions to create a comfortable, appropriate family environment. Above all, don’t be nervous to get involved with FAM… be excited for the growth, friendships, and experiences you will gain!

Vanessa, the UNAVSA-13 Family Programming Director, with her family leaders. We are all apart of one big happy family!

Vanessa Nguyen, UNAVSA-13 Family Programming Director

Within and outside of UNAVSA, I have always had an interest and deep appreciation for the teams of volunteers that help create empowering opportunities and positive experiences for others. One of the reasons I felt most connected to Family Programming is because of the opportunities it provides to create unique and positive memories for attendees.  It’s an opportunity to create a different world with its own themes and experiences, and with whom you share this adventure with new friends.  Personally, I think there is nothing more rewarding than helping to create such opportunities for attendees to break out of their comfort zones, share, bond and connect.

One of the most memorable moments on Family Programming for me are always the beginning and the end of conference, essentially reflecting one of the first and last interactions of the family.  It’s really incredible to see the attendees dressed out in the family swag and so quickly become one, as they present their family chant and banner, and to see, hear and feel these multiple individuals represent themselves as, and become one family.  It’s also then always incredibly bittersweet at the end of the conference for me to see the hugs and tears among families.

All this to say: being a part of Family Programming was definitely one of the most rewarding and impactful experiences of my life and I really encourage you to consider this role!  Whether a first-time attendee or a return-attendee, each of you has something unique to offer so don’t hesitate to apply!  And whether in a family leader role or as an attendee, each of you are also be a part of the UNAVSA family and we are so excited to see you soon!

For those who love fostering friendships, and have the patience, energy, and love needed to create an unforgettable experience, family leader applications are open until May 6, 2017, at 11:59 p.m. PDT, and can be found at: Family Leader Application

We’ll be looking forward to seeing you there!