The Mission of the Friendship Foundation is "to build bridges of friendship" between the peoples of Vietnam and Asia with the peoples of the United States and other peoples of the world.
The Foundation was first established in 1993 by Luong Thi Gia Hoa Ryan after her first visit back to Vietnam in some twenty years. From the end of the war in 1975 until 1993, she was unable to return to her native country, including visiting with her extended family. After going back to Vietnam in 1993, she resolved to establish a Foundation that would promote friendship, peace, and mutual respect. Joined by 30 community people, including veterans and friends at the Renaissance Center in Lorain, Ohio, Gia Hoa Ryan asked them to establish the "Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese, Inc." The vote was unanimous and the Foundation was born.
Through its humanitarian work, the Foundation promotes activities through which people of both Vietnam and elsewhere are able to mutually benefit. This includes helping people go to Vietnam, scheduling educational forums, assisting people who have come from Asia, and providing social services, counseling, and other needed assistance.
Since 1993 when it was formally incorporated, the Foundation has sponsored over six hundred volunteers who have journeyed to Vietnam and Kampuchea and worked with local villages, hospitals, schools and universities, homes for the elderly and handicapped, and other agencies. It is estimated that the Foundation has provided almost $7 million dollars of assistance to people in the form of scholarships, food, books and school materials, clothing and blankets, housing, and funds, as well as services in the areas of medicine, surgery, teaching, and counseling.
The Foundation has also assisted and sponsored people from Indochina and Asia to come to the United States for professional activities. This has resulted in creating many mutually beneficial and lasting relationships.
In the United States, the Foundation has worked with other groups, helping people resettle, providing scholarship aid for students of Asian background, sponsoring art and culture shows, promoting community gatherings celebrating the Asian New Year and Tet Nguyen Dan as well as other significant dates, and providing social, interpreter, and citizenship assistance. This has included a tax clinic for ESL (English as a Second Language) families and utility assistance for low income customers.
Recently, the Foundation has opened the Sai Gon Plaza which serves as a community center. The Plaza is located in a hundred-year-old building comprised of upper and lower levels with 22,000 square feet of space. This building required extensive rehabilitation, including restoring the tin ceiling plates, painting the walls, and sanding, refinishing, and restoring 10,000 square feet of oak wood flooring. Also all store windows, measuring some one hundred feet in length, had to be replaced and restored. Much of this has been done through the labor and hard work of community families. Cleveland city officials were also very supportive of this project.
This building now provides a home for the Foundation headquarters, extensive meeting places for the community, counseling areas and office spaces, a museum for American and Vietnamese Veterans, a library, and display areas for Vietnamese arts, sculpture, handicrafts, paintings and photographs.
The Foundation welcomes all of its friends and supporters to Cleveland. "We invite everyone to visit our great city and our Sai Gon Plaza," states Executive Director Gia Hoa Ryan. "We always have a place where you can stay when you come and we invite you to join in our programs and activities."