Alamo social worker fulfills 'mission impossible' | June 12, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - June 12, 2009

Alamo social worker fulfills 'mission impossible'

Association honors Chia-Chia Chien for helping Asian Americans

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

"One tiny seed can begin a garden." Following this belief, the National Association of Social Workers chose Alamo resident Chia-Chia Chien for its Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Award.

Chien, a social worker for 30 years, founded the Culture to Culture Foundation in 2001 to promote mental health in the Bay Area's Asian-American community.

"During my 28 years of clinical experience, I have seen that Asian Americans have the tendency to either wait until very late or to be in crisis before seeking help," said Chien when receiving her award May 19 in at the Santa Clara Marriott. "The Culture to Culture Foundation was established to serve the community as a bridge to help reduce the cultural stigma associated with mental illness." It also highlights the need for more bilingual and bicultural mental health professionals.

Chien was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States in 1970 as a young adult, where she earned a master's degree in social work from University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and a master's in public health from UC Berkeley.

"I remember at that time, I was experiencing a lot of challenges because of culture shocks and language barriers which often time made me feel that being a first generation immigrant with English as a second language background, to become a social worker was a mission impossible," she said.

Chien was the first bilingual psychiatric social worker hired by the city of Berkeley at its Mental Health Clinic and the only clinician bilingual in Chinese at the Adult Outpatient Program.

"Looking back, I was so amazed that most of my community services in the last 36 years have all been provided to people with cultural and language difficulties," she reflected. "And that was the job that I thought was a mission impossible before but now, to me, it's not only a mission possible but a mission essential."

Chien also started activities for Asian seniors, originally held at the Alamo Women's Club but now part of the Danville seniors who meet at the Veterans Memorial Building. Last year she began the Senior Volunteer Awards in Contra Costa County to recognize older people who give their time generously to others and to encourage more volunteerism.

Also, through the Culture to Culture Foundation, Chien began a Mental Health Warrior Award and the first Chinese American Mental Health Scholarship.

Chien has been recognized many times for her accomplishments, including the 2005 UC Berkeley Peter E. Haas Public Service Award.

She, too, appreciates the importance of planting seeds.

"The Chinese have a saying and that is: One generation plants the trees and the next generation will enjoy the shade," she said.

The Senior Volunteer Awards, started last year by Chia-Chia Chien, are presented to several seniors in Contra Costa County each October with a prize of $250 and a certificate of recognition. Entries are due Aug. 31. For more information, e-mail