Casey Vu is an amazing supporter, volunteer, former client, and friend of Catholic Charities of Oregon, and we are honored to share his story. Thank you, Casey.
Casey Vu was born in Vietnam where he met his wife Mary Vu, who is Chinese Cambodian. While they did not speak each other’s language, they fell in love and decided to get married. Casey was 18 at the time and had just finished high school. Vietnam had fallen, and Casey and Mary decided now was the time to leave.
During their first attempt to flee, Casey was caught and jailed for 18 months. Mary’s family was able to bail him out and so they made their second attempt to leave. Fortunately, Mary spoke Cambodian, Thai, and five different dialects of Chinese; this came in very handy during their journey. It was too dangerous for them to travel by sea, so they went through Cambodia on foot and managed to get to the Thai border. There, they began the process of filing for refugee status in the United States with the support of The Red Cross.
[During the resettlement process, refugees are often placed in areas where they already have family or personal connections. Statistically and ideally, their transition will be more successful with familial support.] With an uncle already living in the area, Casey and his family were set to settle in Portland, Oregon. Catholic Charities of Oregon managed to lend them $3,700 to purchase plane tickets, and so, their journey continued.
Casey, Mary, and their six-month-old daughter, Jenny, landed in Portland on Thanksgiving Day, 1981. “We had nothing”, said Casey, “…we had three bananas and three jackets. That’s what I remember.” When they arrived at the airport, Catholic Charities was there to support Casey and his family through the resettlement process. “Catholic Charities gave me a chance here.”
Casey had this cool image of America that he built from watching American movies; he was filled with hope. “…[then] I got here, and money doesn’t grow on trees you know? Things were tough.” With next to nothing, Casey knew he needed to start working immediately. At the time, he didn’t speak any English and finding an employer that would give him a chance was easier said than done. At one point, he spent three hours attempting to fill out a one-page job application. Finally, he was told to go home, and that they would give him a call; they never did.
A few months later, Casey secured a job at Red Lion as a dishwasher as well as a job as a janitor at a local high school. Together, the hourly wages of both jobs were still not enough to support his family. At this time, Mary went to work as a seamstress for a company that made golf bags. With no one at home to watch their daughter, they had to pay $5 a day for a babysitter.
“It was pretty tough at first, but then I quit my [day] job and got a new job at Siltronic Corporation… they said, ‘if you go to school, we’ll pay for 25% of your tuition’.” For Casey, there was no hesitation. He knew he needed to make more money to support his family, and now he had a clearer path to do so.
As if electronic engineering technology wasn’t hard enough, Casey was still learning English and still working two jobs. “At that time, I was sleeping just over two hours a day for six years…I had no time, so I just went from one job to the other with the alarm clock. But I said…’there’s just no other way’.”
Casey finished his engineering degree with a 3.6 GPA and a promotion. He considered the man who couldn’t speak English and didn’t have any “applicable skills”; he owed it to himself to see what opportunities were now within reach. A man who once struggled through a one-page application at Burger King for three hours, was now receiving multiple offers from both Boeing and Intel. Feeling immense pride for everything he accomplished, Casey now had options! Ultimately, he decided to remain loyal to the company that gave him his start and supported him through school.
Casey worked for Siltronic for nearly 35 years. Throughout his time there, he was sent all over to learn about new technology in the industry. He even went to Japan to learn about robotics, something that was very new to the U.S., and brought back that knowledge to his company. “Along the way, I always dreamed to be a millionaire…I’d say, ‘you came here with nothing, but America is so open for chances’…so I thought ‘I will be a millionaire when I turn 50’.”
Casey fueled his dream with curiosity, dedication, and hard work. He began reading everything he could find on investing. “I tried to learn from books and different things on Warren Buffet and how he invested when he was [only] 11 years old. I became fascinated with numbers and worked really hard…by the time I was 50, I successfully fulfilled my dream.”
Mary was able to retire early and after decades of doing everything he could to support his family and fulfill his “American Dream”, Casey was finally able to slow down. His company was incredibly supportive in Casey’s desire to step back, and he retired comfortably at age 59.
Since her retirement, Mary became an active volunteer in the Asian community and upon Casey’s retirement, he was inspired to follow in her footsteps. “I said, ‘I think the best way for me to repay is Catholic Charities of Oregon because if it wasn’t for them…I would not be here.’” For Casey, no feeling compares to giving back to someone, or in this case an organization, who gave you a hand up when you were at your most vulnerable.
Casey’s support for Catholic Charities was not limited to financial giving. He heard that Save First Financial Wellness was looking for a Financial Coach Volunteer to support their program and became excited by this opportunity. At first, he was concerned that without a special certification, he wouldn’t be an ideal candidate to support the program. However, he was assured that his life experience took precedence, and he would be a great resource for the program’s clients.
After fulfilling his dream, Casey now gets fulfillment from helping others. He feels incredibly blessed to be able to share his success and pass on everything he’s learned. Casey’s story provides hope for everyone, especially refugees and immigrants, that they can thrive and be successful here. He also hopes to inspire people, who are in a position to give financially or give of their time and talent, to get out there and start helping those who need it most. He assures you; you’ll receive more than you could ever give.