New Orleans, La. –
The word receipt comes up a lot in the conversations around the small Gretna office of Coastal Communities Consulting, even when the conversations are otherwise in Vietnamese.
That's because many of those who turn to this nonprofit come from southeast Louisiana's Vietnamese fishing communities. At Coastal Communities Consulting, people like Phi Nguyen help them resolve small business issues and, more than ever these days, with the tangled process of accessing insurance, grants and disaster relief programs.
"They don't know the language, they don't know what's out there, and the people that are supposed to be there to help aren't really doing anything, so that's why they come to us," she says. "Sometimes I can do it over the phone, and sometimes I need you here and I need to sort through everything that you're doing because I don't know what happened, I don't know what you're doing and you don't know what you're doing, so we got to figure it out together."
On the water, commercial fishermen are accustomed to being self sufficient and independent. But CCC, as the group is known, helps build the sustainability of these businesses dockside, in the world of loans, taxes, tuition and ever-changing seafood prices. The group is also there to help with those challenges that are far too big for any individual to handle - like hurricanes and the BP oil spill. These challenges have had local fishing communities on the ropes for years now, in part because just as they damaged their docks, boats and fishing grounds, they damaged their support networks too.
"Katrina triggered this whole thing because everyone was knocked out the same way and we didn't have the resources that we typically do, for example going to our families or our friends to get loans and things like that to put our businesses back," says Sandy Nguyen, director and founder of CCC.
Her group helps a variety of rural small business, though most these days are commercial fishermen. In addition to help with disaster relief programs and addressing here-and-now small business needs, her staff works with clients to improve record keeping, build savings and diversify operations to make them better prepared for tomorrow, come what may.
"Besides the service they're getting, they're also learning how to prepare themselves for the next oil spill," Sandy says.
Recognizing that business issues and family issues are often closely entwined, CCC is also working individually, household by household, to make the commercial fishing industry, and the families it supports, more resilient. In one example, the group is forming a fishermen's wives association to improve the management skills of those who usually run the family business while the men are off fishing.
As our coastal region grapples with its future, Nguyen believes that building up local fishing communities can help bring another resource to the effort - namely, the fishermen themselves.
"Engage my fishermen, you'll learn a lot. Because in here we educate them but we also learn a lot from them," she says. They do have a lot to bring to the conversation, only if you invite and engage them."
To contact Coastal Communities Consulting, call 504-628-2097.