Push on to enhance Viet-Aid mission

The Vietnamese-American Initiative for Development has hired a new director to oversee the Fields Corner-based economic development organization as it prepares to enhance its mission and further develop its place in the Dorchester community.

Bruce Blaisdell, 59, took over as executive director of Viet-AID early last month. A veteran of several non-profits focusing on Boston’s low- and moderate-income communities, Blaisdell served most recently as interim executive director of the Lena Park Community Development Corporation, an organization dedicated to assisting Boston families through housing, workforce development, childcare, and other programs.

“I have always looked for opportunities to try to help low-income families … particularly low income families of color,” Blaisdell, who is white, said in an interview. “The issue is Viet-AID’s identity or mission – is it to serve just the Vietnamese community, or is it to serve the greater Dorchester community.” He and the board have “only just begun” the conversation about how Viet-AID can enhance its services and diversify its offerings to the community, he said. One direction the organization is looking at is the notion of working closer with other local civic organizations and officials, within and outside of the Vietnamese community.

Before leading Lena Park, Blaisdell worked for three years as the chief operating officer of the Roxbury Youthworks social service agency. He was the managing attorney at the City of Boston Law Department from 1992 to 1995 and held multiple positions within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services from 1982 to 1992.

Viet-AID describes itself as working to provide economic development programs for Fields Corner's Vietnamese immigrant and Vietnamese-American community, including ways to provide housing guidance, small business assistance, childcare options, and other aid. Viet-AID operates out of an 18,000 square-foot community center that is the site of many civic events.

“Viet-Aid has a history of being a very successful orgination,” said State Representative, Martin Walsh, (D – Savin Hill.) “Everything they do is top-notch.” Walsh said he is scheduled to meet with Blaisdell soon to discuss the organization’s future, and looks forward to working with the organization.

Another move under consideration is to make a push to better utilize Viet-AID’s Charles St. Community Center, which features a large auditorium and several smaller meeting areas. Blaisdell and others at Viet-AID hope that as more community-oriented organizations embrace the building as a civic center, it will raise the profile of the venue.

“We want more people to come over to make this area more vibrant,” said Viet-AID office manager Hoa Ngo.

Like many other civic and community-based non-profits, Viet-AID has been affected by the downturn in the nation’s economy. Major revenue streams from real estate holdings and other development projects have not performed as well as hoped. Charitable donations and foundation grants have also dried up.

One big hit to the organization’s budget was the loss of a grant from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. The grant subsidized Viet-AID’s classes that teach the safe and environmentally-friendly use of chemicals in the floor-refinishing and fingernail cosmetic industries, two business sectors where many Vietnamese immigrants find employment or start their own businesses.

Blaisdell knows that he is faced with many challenges in his new role, but he is hopeful that enhanced services could be a new source of funding for the organization.

“We can’t afford to do anything that doesn’t increase revenue or pay for itself,” he said of any new plans for services.

Two upcoming events will showcase Viet-AID’s renewed engagement with the community: A reception on Wed., Sept. 23, at 6 p.m., to formally introduce Blaisdell to the community; and on Sat., Sept. 26, at 10 a.m., the organization will host officials from the Boston Public Health Commission for an examination of health and culture in the community.

From October of last year until Blaisdell was hired, Mathew Thall served as Viet-AID’s interim executive director. He is staying on with the organization to assist in the transition. “It’s very helpful to me to have Mat available to me to help me get up to speed with the organization,” Blaisdell said.

A native of Queens, NY, Blaisdell graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1972 and from Boston University Law School in 1975. One of his first jobs after law school was as an attorney providing legal support to low-income families out of a store-front office in Fields Corner – the same office where the organization he now leads was founded almost two decades later.