LOWELL SUN “Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association to outline finances, plan for future at annual meeting”
LOWELL — The Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association will host its annual meeting Wednesday night, where staffers, board and community members will gather to celebrate the organization’s achievements and preview its future plans.
All are invited to learn about the association’s mission, how it serves the Lowell community, its financial status as the pandemic ends and its goals in the coming months and years.
Executive Director Sothea Chiemruom emigrated from Cambodia in 1981 as a child, and after discovering the CMAA, he said it became a safe space for him to find other Cambodian Americans and help them find the resources they need.
At the annual meeting, Chiemruom said he hopes to celebrate the return of in-person programming and share upcoming projects and events. One big goal, he said, is to build affordable housing for Cambodian Americans and other minority groups.
“One of the things that we will be doing is engaging and reconnecting, bridging our community between the younger and the newer generation with, I call them the old-timers,” Chiemruom said. “We are a contributor to the city of Lowell. … We like to think that we have done a tremendous job, a great job, in terms of supporting those in need.”
The CMAA offers such services as translation and English lessons, citizenship assistance, training for first-time homebuyers, Khmer language classes and a six-week youth summer camp, according to its website.
CMAA board President Vannak Theng said the meeting will feature presentations from a couple of the board members, the finance consultant and other personnel, as well as CMAA members and state Rep. Vanna Howard, D-Lowell.
“This organization is at the heart of Lowell,” Theng said. “Having somebody understanding who you are, where you’re from and what you’re about, and then also being able to access a service and not worrying about language barriers is very, very important.”
During COVID-19, staffers also passed out food, including “bags and bags of rice” to those who needed it, Theng said, and remained active despite restrictions.
Participation in the organization’s various programs is still low. Typically, about 30 children and teenagers join the Cambodian After School Program, but during the pandemic, only 10 to 20 kids showed up. Chiemruom said he hopes the meeting could invigorate the group’s programming.
“Fortunately, the financial impact was not too bad,” he said. “We were resilient, but of course we had to close our door to customers, our clients, our community, But at the same time, we did what we could in terms of utilizing online information to help inform and teach our community about the risk of COVID and encourage people to vaccinate.”
Maddox Yang, an incoming freshman at Lowell High School, joined the CMAA’s after-school program two years ago, where he learns about Cambodian celebrations, holidays and traditional dances. But what first encouraged him to attend was the opportunity to improve his Khmer, Cambodia’s official language.
Yang has relatives who primarily speak Khmer, which made conversations difficult. Through the CMAA, Yang said he’s been able to improve his language skills and can now speak with family members he previously couldn’t.
“In Cambodia, I have aunts and uncles and grandparents that talk to me on the phone, and before, when they would ask me things in Khmer, I didn’t really understand, so it was really challenging,” Yang said. “Now, since I’m fully in (the program), my Khmer has gotten much better.”
Wednesday’s meeting starts at 6:15 p.m. and will be held on the third floor of the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub, at 110 Canal St.
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