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Shining a spotlight on a beacon of hope for Northeast Ohio's AAPI community

Cleveland's Asian Services in Action is home to a variety of services, including a community health center for primary care.

CLEVELAND — Asian Services in Action (ASIA) is a non-profit organization that serves the immigrant and refugee population in Northeast Ohio. Despite COVID-19 fears, they remained open throughout the pandemic because there is such a need in the Asian community.

It's a beacon of hope and healing in the Asian community. A center of a variety of services, including a community health center for primary care.

But the mental health issues caused by pandemic isolation and anti-Asian racism have been a challenge to treat.

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"There's an enormous cultural barrier for the Asian community it's an extreme stigma to seek mental or behavioral health counseling," said Elaine Tso, CEO of ASIA.

While many will not seek help alone, they're finding more acceptance with virtual healing circles on zoom. Groups of ten people comfort each other, listen, share stories and talk out their feelings regarding racism and pandemic issues.

"Through the healing circle or through times when people come to see their primary care and maybe they have built a relationship and enough trust than they will share stories about their fear or being attacked," said independent clinical counselor and social worker, Fei Li.

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"When they hear from someone that looks like them and speaks their language, they're much more willing to say 'well if this person says it's OK for me to access counseling services and they are from my culture' then the patient is more likely to be receptive to that sort of service," Tso said.

For years, those in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community have felt invisible and ignored.

"Even you asking us all these questions makes us visible and makes the voice being heard," Li said.

We weren't the only ones who wanted to highlight the important work they do. The Verizon Foundation noticed and took action with a huge surprise of a $100,000 donation to the ASIA, announced by Chris Serico.

Serico says ASIA’s mission aligns with Verizon's larger 'Citizen Verizon' responsible-business plan, which centers on digital inclusion, climate protection and human prosperity. The donation is part of the Verizon Foundation's $5 million commitment to organizations advancing racial equality for the AAPI community.

RELATED: The long, ugly history of racism against the AAPI community

The money will go towards things like enhancing interpretation services, adding additional providers in the area, support work at health centers and helping AAPI businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"We absolutely took note of all the work that ASIA has been doing not only with the pandemic but confronting the hate directed at the AAPI community in Northeast Ohio and nationally and we just want to help you expand and deepen your work, the health centers, the wraparound services, the community engagement, we're just so honored to be able to support the incredible work that ASIA does," said Jessica Cohen, manager of Verizon's State and Government Affairs division. 

"Racism is not something that's new, it's been a historical part of life in America for a long time, but what I would ask the non-Asian community to do, it could start today even, is to get to know people who are different, learn from the people who are different from you, it may surprise you that there are common grounds," Tso said.