Life in Taishan was not easy. Mr. Huang suffered heart problems for years. Mrs. Huang worked in a grocery store and as a telephone operator for 14 years. They dreamed of a better life both for them and their daughter.
God intervened when their sister petitioned for them to come to the US. When they landed in 2005, nothing else compared to the joy they felt reuniting with the rest of their family in Chicago.
But the happiness did not last. Mrs. Huang could not speak English. After friends told her about Pui Tak Center, she registered and started in a Basic ESL class. “[I] Didn’tunderstand anything, [but] PTC teachers patiently taught students,” she recalled.
During an ESL class, she learned about PTC’s Community Services. Mrs. Huang met with Sarah and began crying as she described her financial situation and feelings of hopelessness. Sarah, who also has a disabled family member, comforted Mrs. Huang by saying that “God will make a way for you.”
Sarah invited Mrs. Huang to bring Yue Yu to a support group for families with disabilities. Yue Yu did not want to come to Pui Tak Center at first. She refused to even enter the front door.
God began to work in Yue Yu. In 2009, she started the support group. A few years later, PTC started the Poiema program for young adults with disabilities. Before, Yue Yu refused to wake up as she had nothing to look forward to. Now, she is up at
6:30 AM to get ready for work. She used to get easily distracted but now is learning how to follow procedures, arrange her time, and stay alert. When she comes home from work, she excitedly shares about the day’s activities and, of course, she lovesreceiving a paycheck and taking it to the bank.
“No Pui Tak [means] no support. Without Pui Tak, you don’t know which road to takeor how to go,” Mrs. Huang said. “Yue Yu now thinks about the future.”
Margaret’s childhood ended when her parents divorced. They were too busy to care for her so they sent her off to boarding school where she learned to fend for herself. She barely saw her family and was overwhelmed with academic pressure.
Later, Margaret’s mother remarried and moved to Chicago. She applied for her daughter tojoin her. In October 2017, Margaret arrived in Chicago to start her new life as a high school junior.
Around the same time, Pui Tak Center received a generous donation for our youth program. For many years, the youth program offered homework help and two days of ESL classes taught by college students. This donation enabled our youth program to hire some of our experienced Adult ESL teachers to teach youth every day after school. As immigrant parents and youth heard about this change, enrollment in our classes doubled.
“Youth who immigrate when they are junior high or high school have very little time to catch up to their peers,” Tiffany Man, PTC’s Youth Coordinator said. “They have to learn English anddo well in their subject classes in hopes that they can go to college.”
Margaret did not arrive in Chicago with a lot of time to be ready for college. Her mother pointed her towards Pui Tak Center. Margaret became involved in the after-school program. Recognizing that English was her biggest obstacle to university, Margaret began working with tutors, taking extra classes, studying at every moment she had, and working with Tiffany to make sure she was using all the resources available to her.
“Coming from China to Chicago was really stressful for Margaret. We’re here to help during this crucial transition time,” Tiffany Man, PTC’s Youth Coordinator said.
Pui Tak Center’s Youth Program encourages every student to consider college. We arrange college visits, help students prepare for the SAT test and give advice on college admissions. Going to college became Margaret’s goal and nothing was going to stop her. Last fall, she mailed in her applications, not knowing what to expect. She waited and waited until one day a single envelope arrived – offering her a full ride to one of the best universities in Chicago.
While most kids have years to prepare for their future, immigrant youth have a short window to get on track. That is why Pui Tak Center invests in kids like Margaret so that they have the help that they need to go to college.
For most people marriage is a new house in a different part of town. For Mrs. Moymarriage was a new house in an entirely new country where she didn’t speak thelanguage. Someone referred her to Pui Tak Center, and she started attending English classes. She studied hard, but her priorities changed after having a family. Mrs. Moy gave up her classes so she could work and raise her children. But she never forgot Pui Tak Center.
Mrs. Moy’s life changed forever in January 2018. Her husband had difficulty breathing so they went to the hospital where doctors discovered a tumor on his heart. After being admitted, the tumor exploded. His heart stopped and his brain lost oxygen. Surgeons worked tirelessly to save his life. Mrs. Moy helplessly waited for over 7 hours to hear whether she would ever see her husband again.
“I was terrified. It was life and death,” Mrs. Moy said.
He survived but suffered brain damage. The surgery left him weak and in pain. Mrs. Moy spent every spare minute she had in the hospital helping him walk and bathe.But it wasn’t enough. Bills had to be paid. Doctor appointments had to be made.Mrs. Moy had once given up English lessons to support her family. Now, she needed English to take care of her husband.
She had no idea where to turn until she saw a flyer for PTC’s Community Services.
“She knew that Pui Tak Center was a Christian organization and knew she could come here for help,” Wingsun Tam, PTC’s Community Services Specialist, recalled.
Wingsun helped Mrs. Moy pay the bills and make appointments. More importantly, she made Mrs. Moy feel safe during a very troubling time.
“I could stop worrying about these things and focus on taking care of my husband,”Mrs. Moy said.
Sadly, things did not get better for her husband. He developed an infection and underwent a second operation. After being discharged from the hospital, he went from rehab to a nursing home. Mrs. Moy wakes up early every morning so that she can visit her husband before work. She remains positive in spite of daily challenges, knowing that Pui Tak will always be there the next time she needs help.
Getting here is only half the journey.
Meiqin spent her entire life in Taishan. She raised her children there and ran a small business selling vegetables in a local market. Her husband though wanted to be reunited with his children in Chicago.
In 2011, they got their Green Cards and left China for their new lives in America. Nothing prepared Meiqin for the shock of living in a new country. She didn’t knowthe language and had no idea how to get around. Without her children, she felt alone.
Her husband’s family got her a job at a local restaurant. Every morning, she waited on Wentworth for the van to take her to work. As she stood on the curb, she always noticed groups of people wearing backpacks filing out of a large building down the street. Meiqin was very curious but never had the time to ask them what they were doing.
She was able to make friends with her coworkers but no matter how hard she tried, she was still unable to have a basic conversation with any customers. She grew frustrated with her life here and desperately wanted to move back. Her friends encouraged her to stay but she no longer saw a future in America.
“I was packed up and ready to go back to China,” Meiqin said.
One day, while waiting for the van, she asked the people with backpacks where they were coming from. They told her about the ESL classes at Pui Tak Center.
She decided to register.
Whether at work or at home, every spare moment she had was dedicated to studying English. The more she studied, the less she felt like leaving.
“Meiqin is one of those people who is determined to do whatever she needs to doto improve her life,” Wingsun Tam, PTC’s Community Services Specialist, said.
As she would soon be eligible to become a U.S. citizen, Meiqin took the Citizenship class. After class one day, she approached her teacher, Ivy Lee, and asked if they could start meeting so Meiqin could practice for the interview. They met often, and Meiqin absorbed everything. Ivy even went with Meiqin to the naturalization interview.
Meiqin passed on her first try.
Now an American citizen, she no longer thinks about going back. She is even petitioning for her children to come and join her in Chicago.
“The help and encouragement I received from the staff at Pui Tak helped me stay in the U.S.,” she related.
“I call her my ‘older sister,’” Ivy said. “We still meet one or twice a year for dim sum.”
Sometimes God leads us using the simplest thing. In Meiqin's case, people wearing backpacks leaving class led her to Pui Tak Center and kept her in America.
Keyu is more than just a participant in one of Pui Tak Center’s programs. He is a part of PTC’s fabric. His energy and joy are contagious. It is hard not to smile along with him as he recounts his latest adventure.
Things though were not always this good for Keyu.
He spent his early childhood in a small town in the hills of Fujian province. Due to a learning disability, he fell behind his classmates. His teachers did not have the experience or resources to give him the help he needed.
After immigrating to Chicago, he enrolled in a Special Education program. It gave him tools to overcome many obstacles. But it did not prepare him for life after school.
He later joined a local program for young adults and became just another participant. No one showed him how to go out and do things on his own. Just as important, he still could not find a job.
“Keyu kept asking me why he couldn’t find a job after he has been training for along time,” Connie Wang, his sister, recounted. “We didn’t have many choices at that time.”
He was frustrated and lost interest in the program.
Many young adults in that position are forced to give up and just stay at home. Keyu Wang though is not ordinary. He was determined to do whatever it took to succeed. All he needed was the right opportunity.
Friends told his family about Pui Tak Center. Poiema Community Day Services had just started. It provided employment and life skill training to young adults with developmental disabilities. Keyu became the first participant. He worked closelywith Rosalie Der, PTC’s Disability Services Facilitator. She gave Keyu individualized attention and trained him to become self-sufficient.
Min led a comfortable and successful life in his hometown of Guangzhou. Yet nothing could fill the emptiness he felt after his sisters and parents immigrated to Chicago. "Even though in China I had a stable and happy job and had a lot of friends, I missed my family," Min recalled. He longed to be reunited with them. So, he packed up his life and moved his family halfway across the world.
He was thrilled to be back together again with his sisters and parents. But adjusting to life in Chicago was far from easy. He felt anxious surrounded by a strange culture with a language he did not know. As he examined his surroundings, he realized that his only path to success lay in mastering English.
Min persevered despite the daily difficulties trying to adjust to this new country. He worked hard to become as fluent as possible and learn as much about American culture as he could. His sisters told him about the free ESL courses available at Pui Tak Center. In January 2012, Min entered the building he had passed by so many times, taking the first steps in a journey that would forever transform his life.
Min made himself a fixture in the building. He took every course available to him and absorbed all he could. Learning English was his new career. "I work very hard at learning English because I know the importance of it. Also the more I learn the more interested I get," he said. The obstacles which originally left him feeling anxious now motivated him to master this language.
His drive and dedication were apparent to everyone. "He was definitely one of those students I love having in class because he was always participating and asking questions," Allison Lewis, one of his teachers, recounted.
As Min grew more comfortable with English, he looked forward to becoming a U.S. citizen. One hurdle to this goal was passing the naturalization test. While most immigrants know the name of the current U.S. President, none have ever studied the amendments to the Constitution. Min never missed a class and after a year, felt ready. Even though he was nervous, he knew he would pass.
And pass he did! This past April Min took his Citizenship oath. "After I become an American citizen I feel very excited because in American elections I can vote," he said.
His story is just one in a part of Chicago that is full of them. Min shows how God is using Pui Tak Center to transform Chinatown - one life at a time.