As a child, Nancy Dang was drawn to issues most children knew nothing about, hunger, poverty and war. “I always assumed that I would end up in Africa, but God had a different plan,” said Dang.
In 1992, Catholic Charities received the first youth from the Sudan. Dang said, “It hit me then that, on some level, it had been the fulfillment of my destiny. I never made it to Africa; instead God had sent Africa to me.”
Dang started working at Catholic Charities in 1984 as the volunteer coordinator in the refugee resettlement program. She is a licensed social worker and teacher which has led to many positions over the last 31 years, including case manager and independent living coordinator.
For the last 10 years Dang has been the supervising teacher for the unaccompanied minor program. She teaches children from Central America who are temporarily in foster care while waiting to be reunited with their families. Though the children are only in Dang’s class for a short time, she helps to work miracles in their lives.
One of Dang's memories at Catholic Charities was with the Lost Boys that Catholic Charities resettled. One boy was an unusually quiet and serious young man. Dang enrolled him in high school then took him to the bookstore to get his books. “When he was handed his biology book, he held it close to his heart and cried. He told me that he waited his entire life for this opportunity,” said Dang.
Many children come to Dang without any formal education. “I had a Haitian teenager who had been raised on a fishing boat -- he had never held a pencil and was totally illiterate. At times, he was the brunt of jokes by the other boys,” said Dang. “He became the most successful of the group and everyone turned to him for help once they were emancipated. He helped his peers with housing, food and securing jobs; just like it says in the Bible's Book of Matthew, ‘So the last will be first and the first will be last.’”
By the time the children walk into Dang’s classroom, most have been through unimaginable pain and loss. She is determined to let each child know that they are important and have value.
Dang is adamant that she couldn’t do this alone. Her classroom assistant, Heldy Salazar, shares her vision and plays a vital role in the classroom. Many of the foster parents have been with UMP for years and become part of her extended family. In addition to Catholic Charities staff and volunteers, other organizations have come along to partner with her including Free Arts of Arizona and the Glendale/Peoria YMCA. Both provide weekly services and support to her students that make them feel valued and cared for.
“I feel like I am doing exactly what I was created to do, and I have absolutely no desire to do anything differently with my life,” said Dang.
You can be a part of Nancy Dang’s team by becoming a monthly donor on our Foster Care Team. You can be a part of bringing miracles into the lives of these precious children.