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Dynamic 507 unites Lao community

WORTHINGTON -- They are energetic, young and eager to leave a positive impression on those they meet.

Dynamic 507, a group of about 25 local students, made its public debut Sunday when members presented a Culture Corner program on China at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) in Worthington.

The youth group began on the suggestion of Nan Xayphantho, a WHS student who wanted to unite members of the community's Lao immigrants. She approached the Collaborative, which organized the first meeting in November for 25 charter members.

Since that initial meeting, Dynamic 507 has met every Wednesday after school -- sometimes for up to seven hours -- to set goals, plan projects and interact with each other. Heidi Fransen, part-time youth development coordinator at NCIC, is the group's mentor and facilitator.

Fransen said the group has identified three specific missions: To build leadership through community service, to study southeast Asian culture and to promote a positive image of youth. She's quick to point out that the group is open to members of any culture.

For their presentation Sunday at Culture Corner, Dynamic 507 members spent three weeks studying the Chinese culture, writing reports on what they learned and gathering Chinese artifacts from local residents. Part of what students learned was applied in an after-school program they presented to Kindergarten through third grade students in Adrian recently.

Fransen said the group chose to study Chinese Culture because the Chinese New Year was celebrated Jan. 29.

"Most of these students are Lao, but they're learning about a different Asian culture that they didn't grow up in," Fransen said. "There are definite similarities."

Educating themselves and others about different cultures isn't the only goal of the group, however. Between November and the end of January, members logged more than 350 hours of volunteerism, including helping a local Boy Scout troop with a holiday party, providing child care at Prairie Elementary during events and assisting NCIC with the programs it offers.

"Any task we give them, they do," Fransen said. "They're really reliable and a fun group of kids.

"I'm concerned they are volunteering too much, but they seem to enjoy it," she added. "They were craving to get involved -- they just wanted to do something as a group."

Mikey Prathinthong said Dynamic 507 is filling a void that wasn't previously available in Worthington.

"There's hardly any Laotian groups out there," he said. "We just wanted to volunteer -- to show people what we can do."

Xayphantho said that was one of the things she hoped to accomplish by forming the group. She said it is important to her that others view diversity in a positive way.

Stacy Lo said she simply wants people to realize that Asian people can volunteer and help, too. She believes a main reason why people don't see a lot of participation and volunteerism from the Lao community in Worthington is because of the language barrier. Her parents don't speak English, which essentially prevents them from becoming involved in activities.

Prathinthong said that at the same time their parents struggle to learn English and American culture, their children are learning English and being absorbed in American traditions.

"We are losing our background," he said, adding that his parents ask him to talk in Lao, but he has forgotten some of the language.

"Our parents want us to progress in school -- they want us to have the education," Prathinthong added. Part of that education, however, should be their cultural heritage.

In studying Chinese culture for their first public presentation, Prathinthong said several members of the group would like to travel to southeast Asia through Dynamic 507 to experience that culture firsthand.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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