Hoa Phung, a foster care social worker at Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS), used to be a teacher in Vietnam. “When I came to America, I dreamed that I would be able to continue to work with children,” she said. So she went back to school and studied social work at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). Hoa began working for LCFS immediately after graduating, and is retiring after more than 23 years.
“LCFS is my second family in this country. We all get along so well, and work together as a team. I have had a lot of fun and have made a lot of memories,” Hoa said.
Hoa has worked with a variety of foster care children over the years, but the majority of her cases have been unaccompanied refugee minors (URM). “I really enjoy working with URM children because we prepare young men and women for life in America,” Hoa said. “We help them to adjust to the community, develop life skills and mature so that when they turn 21 and are no longer in foster care they have a good foundation. I feel really good about that.”
True to her teaching background, Hoa places an emphasis on education. “My biggest focus with the children is education. Education is the key for their life,” she said. Hoa looks at their report cards, praises them for good grades, and encourages them to graduate from high school and go to college. “You can help yourself to have a better life,” she says.
Hoa keeps in touch with most of the children that she has worked with, including many of her very first cases, and has been invited to attend several weddings. “I spend so much time with these children, we become very close,” she said “It’s not just my job to spend time with them. I think of them like I would a child or a grandchild.”
One URM youth that Hoa worked with told her that she inspired her to major in social work in college. She now works at the Social Security office because she remembers going there with Hoa when she came to America as a child.
Another URM youth is now in nursing school, and Hoa visits her often. “I do anything that I can to help her, because she deserves it. She is very smart and so appreciative.” Hoa received an email from her saying that she wanted to attend her retirement party “I didn’t even tell her that I was retiring, I don’t know how she found out about it. She’s no longer in foster care but she still thinks of me, it’s so meaningful.”
“I am very happy to work with this program, I feel great about the work that I am doing, and I feel that the children really appreciate it. I love my job,” Hoa said.
Hoa practices Buddhism and is looking forward to having more time to practice and meditate. She also plans to spend more time working in her back yard, and visiting her grandchildren, some of which live in Rhode Island. However, retirement is bittersweet. “It feels surreal, like I’m not really leaving. I think of the memories and sometimes I tear up. Everything is all set but I can’t believe I’m actually retiring.”
Click here for pictures from Hoa’s retirement party!