"We are here to help, and never to judge," says La Crosse County Economic Support Specialist Teng Vang.
Teng Vang used to dread going to work.
“I was a debt collector, so it was kind of like the opposite of what I do now,” he says. “Instead of demanding money from people I try to help them access benefits.”
Vang has worked as an Economic Support Specialist at the La Crosse County Human Services Department for almost five years and focuses on helping older adults apply for long term care benefits.
“I really enjoy what I do now,” he says. “I come to work every single day expecting to help a lot of people.”
Vang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and moved to La Crosse County at a young age. He graduated from Holmen High School and has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
At the county, he’s part of a team that helps people work through the application process for programs like BadgerCare Plus, FoodShare, and long-term care benefits for older adults and people with disabilities.
“It can be complicated for people, but we are here to help, and never to judge,” Vang says. “All our conversations are confidential, and I try and take people through the process step by step.”
Vang and his colleagues work over the phone but also are available for in-person appointments. He’s one of several Hmong language speakers at the county available to talk with people whose first language is Hmong.
“The reason I love my job is because it is an opportunity to assist people, including my community - the Hmong community,” he says. “I want people to know that we’re here to help, and nobody should be embarrassed or ashamed to apply for benefits.”
When he’s off the clock, you might find Vang under the hood of his brother’s Toyota MR2. The pair are working to restore the vehicle, which needs a fair amount of work.
“It’s been dead for over six years and so we’re trying to get it running again,” he says. “Right now we’re still looking for parts, it’s quite a project.”
Cars are a big passion of Vang’s and one day, he’d like to own a 1993 Toyota Supra.
“That’s my dream classic car, I’ve been wanting that car since I was a kid because of the games I used to play, and the Fast and the Furious series, which were the movies that really got me into cars,” he says.
Back in the office, Vang says one of the things he likes about his job is how he and his colleagues support each other.
“This is a really great department to work in because we get a lot of support to make ourselves successful, through training or just help when you need it,” he says.
To talk with Teng or one of the other Economic Support Specialists at the Western Region for Economic Assistance, dial 888-627-0430 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays.
La Crosse County is one of eight counties that joined together to form WREA. The WREA team helps residents access BadgeCare Plus, Medicaid, FoodShare, Childcare assistance and the Caretaker Supplement. They may also be able to provide you with contact information for other community resources, like heating and energy assistance.