Carolyn Bogott: Van Vugt inspired back give back

Published 6:05 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Varinh Van Vugt has a very inspiring way of looking at life.  She said she approaches everything with the idea that she will never have this same exact experience again, so she must make the most of each moment and leave a positive impact. This applies especially to any interaction she has with others.

At age one, in 1986, Varinh and her family moved to Austin after spending two years in Napho Camp in Thailand as Laotian refugees. At that time our community had no organization to assist newcomers.  She said her family was very lucky that Jan Guttormson of First United Methodist Church helped them, as did her parents’ English as a Second Language teacher, Bonnie Rietz. Varinh reminds us that her family and other refugees left their home countries not by choice but due to impossible conditions there. Here in Austin, they have experienced the huge difficulties of making a new life in a completely unfamiliar place.

Being so grateful for the opportunities she had growing up here has inspired Varinh to give back to Austin in many ways.  She currently is the Program Coordinator of the Welcome Center, as well as a student at Riverland Community College, a parent to three sons, and a part-time server at a local restaurant. The Austin Human Rights Commission, Austin Aspires, and Connecting Young Professionals are three other organizations that benefit from Varinh’s participation. She has also been a candidate for both the school board and for city council in the past few years. She credits her husband’s and her mother’s support in making all this possible.

In her role at the Welcome Center, Varinh oversees the daily operations, always keeping in mind the mission of “empowering newcomers with access to community resources to provide opportunities for self-sufficiency.” In practical terms that means helping to find housing, employment, medical care, educational opportunities, referrals for legal matters, and as a part of all of these, translation and interpreter services. Varinh is pleased with the new relationship with the Parenting Resource Center, as that will free her and others at the Welcome Center to focus more on direct services to clients.

Austin is lucky to have this very dynamic, charismatic, and wise young woman in our midst. Thank you Varinh Van Vugt for your many contributions to Austin!