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Plaesay Say strives to help others reach a better life

It is amazing that some people come through extremely difficult circumstances with not only the will to find a better life, but also with a passion to help others.

Plaesay Say is such a person. Her mother and brother fled with her from violence in Burma.  From ages nine to 24, she lived in a series of refugee camps in Thailand. Sometimes in fear for her safety, her life during those years was very constrained, both by real fences and by limited opportunity. It consisted of going to school and struggling to find enough food.  She credits a teacher in one of the camps with instilling in her the value of education.

Plaesay Say. Photo provided

Somehow, she was able to keep the hope of a better life alive, and finally she received the opportunity to come to the United States in 2002. As with many Karen (her particular ethnic group, pronounced karEN), Plaesay first came to St. Paul.   She was at home with her children until 2007, just figuring out how to live in this new environment.   Then she found work as an interpreter for Early Childhood Family Education in Ramsey County, using her knowledge of Burmese, Karen and English.  In 2008, after a move to Worthington, she again worked for Early childhood Family Education as a “Parent as Teacher”.  There she used her facility in languages, plus her own experience in this culture, to assist new residents with registering and communicating with the schools, navigating health care options, buying cars and purchasing houses.   Then from 2010 to 2019, Plaesay worked as a union representative for workers at a meat packing plant in Michigan, helping to interpret their contract rights.

Here in Austin, she is a joint employee of the Austin Public School District and The Parenting Resource Center. Her job title is “Community Connections Specialist.” From Monday to Thursday she works at the Community Learning Center, helping the families of the preschool children enrolled there. On Fridays, she works at The Parenting Resource Center.  All of her work entails helping with many of the same things she did as a “Parent as Teacher” in Worthington. She may accompany a parent to a medical appointment, interpret for a family negotiating a home loan, explain to new homeowners how to clean and care for their house, (including how to change a fuse and whom to call for repairs). She facilitates communication between parents and teachers about buses and rules, and she translates at parent-teacher conferences.  One of her favorite activities is helping at the Family Literacy classes, watching parents learn new parenting skills along with the new language. In our public schools, we now have 400 students who speak Karen, Karenni, Chin or Burmese (all languages from Burma) at home, making Plaesay’s work very important to our community.

“Plaesay is committed to our families and their success. She brings a knowledgeable and peaceful presence to the CLC. Our families trust her and seek her counsel in finding the best opportunities for their children,” said Jennifer Lawhead at the Community Learning center.

“The Parenting Resource Center, Inc. and Austin Public Schools are very fortunate to have Plaesay on their team,” said Plaesay’s supervisor at The Parenting Resource Center, Gema Alvarado-Guerrero. “Plaesay might not always be aware of her own light because of her humble personality, yet anytime she walks into a room it becomes illuminated with her positive presence and humor. She is a strong leader, mother, and advocate for those that need someone to amplify their concerns. Her compassion for others shows in her personal and professional life and the grace she has about her is second to none. Everyone, and I mean everyone, truly needs someone like Plaesay in their lives.”

Plaesay Say, Austin is proud and grateful to have you serving in our community.

For more information about the Austin Branch of AAUW, contact Sue Grove  sue.grove@riverland.edu  or Carolyn Bogott  csbogott@charter.net. The American Association of University Women, now AAUW, is open to anyone who has completed a two-year degree or beyond.  AAUW welcomes men who support our objectives and there are student memberships available. AAUW has been empowering women since 1881.  We support equity and education for women.  Scholarships are offered, as well as help in litigation in cases dealing with sex discrimination.  We are the most important and highly respected research and lobbying organization dealing with women’s issues such as equal opportunity and job equality.