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Kajsiab House

Kajsiab House programming will move from its location on Mendota Mental Health Institute's campus to a temporary location at the Catholic Multicultural Center on South Park Street beginning Oct. 2. 

When Journey Mental Health Center announced it would be discontinuing programming at the Kajsiab House and the Cambodian Temple, Madison’s Hmong and Cambodian communities mourned the loss of a space many consider their “home away from home.”

The elders of these communities need the safe space of the Kajsiab House, currently located on Mendota Mental Health Institute’s campus, and temple in Fitchburg for comfort, care, support and access to critical resources, Mai Zong Vue said.

“To keep them alive is to have a house for them to go,” Vue, a Hmong community leader and a longtime Kajsiab House volunteer, said.

On Friday — the scheduled closing date at the center’s current location on Mendota Mental Health Institute’s campus — Hmong elders celebrated a new place of hope and healing. Through the end of the year, programming will take place at the Catholic Multicultural Center off of South Park Street.

The community’s elders have named the new location Hmong Kajsiab, to represent a people of healing instead of a house of healing. They celebrated Friday, wearing traditional multi-colored clothing, at a ceremony and over lunch.

Hmong elders

Hmong elders listen to speakers during a celebration announcing a temporary location for Kajsiab House programming.

“Together, we will move ahead,” said Dr. Fred Coleman, a psychiatrist who works at Kajsiab House, at the celebration. “This building will end, but our life together will not. We have a strong future.”

Following Journey’s announcement in August that it lacked funding to continue the programs, community members rallied to secure gap funding. With a total of $125,000 collected through funding from the city of Madison, Dane County, local businesses and individuals, the programs are able to operate through the end of the year.

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At its current location at 3518 Memorial Dr., Kajsiab House serves over 150 members of the Madison Hmong community, including refugees and veterans who fought for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Community members can access wrap-around services like English classes, meals and community discussions in addition to culturally sensitive mental health counselling and therapy.

While the mental health services is a crucial component of the programming at Kajsiab House, Vue said fellowship in a place of share language and culture also brings a sense of relief for Hmong elders.

“Being able to be with each other is a treatment,” Vue said.

Vue said work on finding a permanent location will continue.

The Cambodian Temple serves about 125 members of the local southeast Asian population and began in 1990 to serve survivors of the genocide under dictator Pol Pot. Community members also access mental health care at the temple.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.