Learn About The Hmong Institute
Empowering community through education, health, and preservation of Hmong heritage.
To be the prominent leader in Hmong heritage.
Where We Came From
Mai Zong and Peng were children of Hmong refugees. Born during the Vietnam War, they knew of only war and not peace. They resettled in America as refuges with their families. They are the 1.5 Hmong generation who are the new fabric of the American society today. Mai Zong knew of only war and not peace.
Mai Zong grew up in the refugee camps in Thailand for five years. Arriving as a Hmong teenage refugee, Mai Zong became the family interpreter and system navigator as she quickly learned English. Throughout high school and college, Mai Zong became a community organizer and advocate for higher education for Hmong girls, established Hmong youth clubs, ran community Hmong radio and TV show, and cultural broker between Hmong refugees and mainstream agencies. Mai Zong devoted her career-life working in state government to develop culturally and linguistically competent programs for Hmong and other refugees. In 1992, Mai Zong joined the Wisconsin State Refugee Office as a Refugee Program Specialist and retired in 2013 from the Department of Health Services as the Inter-Cultural Program Specialist.
Mai Zong’s passion to seek social justice and equitable community services started from being a grass-root organizer and advocate to decision-making roles at local community, state, and national government levels. She has 35 years of experience in areas of: refugee community grass-root organizational development, advocacy and training; culturally competent program and policy development; community liaison; non-profit and professional development; women and youth development; refugee and mental health policy and analytic skills; contract administration; Hmong studies development; and a huge network of underserved provider, community, and government relationships. Notable efforts include President of Hmong National Development (HND), co-founder of Refugee Women’s Network in GA, founder of the statewide Refugee Family Strengthening Programs (Hmong domestic violence), co-founded the Hmong studies faculty positions at UW-Madison, Hmong and refugee mental health initiatives in Wisconsin, and Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program (HLCEP).
In 1976 Peng and his family were resettled in Iowa as a young boy–four years old. Peng was raised in a small town with a few Hmong families, resulting in having limited Hmong language skills and cultural knowledge. Through Peng’s hard work and dedication, he received a degree in physic from De Paul University and went to work at Argonne National Lab as a physicist. Despite his prestige job working with award-winning Nobel Peace Prize colleagues at Argonne National Lab, Peng left his job to advance his community in 2001.
Peng brought with him a passion and commitment to develop his community, including the Hmong At Heart Exhibit at the Madison Children’s Museum, co-founded the Wisconsin Hmong Chamber of Commerce, executive directors for several local non-profit agencies in Madison, co-founded the Hmong studies faculty positions at UW-Madison, ran for public offices (local and statewide), worked at UW-Madison, held several local and state government appointment positions, co-founded The Hmong Institute, and became the first CEO of The Hmong Institute. Peng was recognized for his work in the community, including the Dane County’s Martin Luther King Award and United Way’s Community Leadership.
In 2018, Mai Zong and Peng Her launched The Hmong Institute to put all their community efforts under one roof and focus on community capacity building that includes Hmong cultural heritage education, preservation, and training and develop culturally and linguistically appropriate-competent behavioral health services. As co-founder and board president of The Hmong Institute, Mai Zong’s commitment to her new home (Wisconsin/America) is to ensure that Hmong children grow up to be productive citizens, not a liability to society. She believes that prevention is cheaper than intervention, especially for her young Hmong community. As the CEO of THI, Peng believes in equity and inclusion and the importance of community development. Peng shared, “If you are not at the table, then you are on the menu and I’m tired of being on the menu for others to make decisions for me or my community.”
Mai Zong obtained her Bachelor of Arts from Lakeland University in 1990, and her Masters in Social Work from UW-Madison in 1997. She is certified in Cultural Competency Training with Cross-Cultural Health Program in Seattle, Washington. Mai Zong was an adjunct instructor at Edgewood College and UW-Madison and taught Hmong American Experience courses, an effort to develop Hmong Studies Program at UW-Madison. She supported the development of a few Hmong women’s agency/groups in Wisconsin (Hmong American Women’s Association in Milwaukee, Hmong Women’s Agency in Green Bay, HOPE Hmong women in Sheboygan/Wausau) and was a board of director for local and national non-profits agencies, including Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children in New York, Refugee Women Network in Atlanta, Madison Children’s Museum, and Hmong National Development in D.C., which she was the board president and conference chair.
Peng received his Bachelor of Science degree from Central College in 1994 and his Masters in Physics from DePaul University in 1997. Peng was the first Hmong physicist to work at Argonne National Lab in Chicago. Peng co-founded the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program (HLCEP), served on several local and statewide boards and commissions. He promotes and paves the way for Hmong youth and professionals to learn, understand and engage in civic participation by running for public offices and creating volunteer and educational learning venues for others. Peng received several awards in recognizing his community efforts, including the Martin Luther King Award and the United Way of Dane County’s Community Leadership Award.
What We Are Doing Now
The Hmong Institute is a 501 (C) (3) non-profit. With a passion to advance the Hmong community and other underserved communities, community is at the heart of everything we do. At The Hmong Institute (THI), our services are designed with the community in mind and shaped by our core values. We believe in putting the people we serve first, recognizing that we are stronger and better when we work together, doing what is just or right, and being driving to achieve our goals. What are we doing now at THI? We are serving, teaching, and building future leaders and strengthening communities in three areas:
The Hmong community is still a new kid on the block although we have been in Wisconsin since 1976. A lot of education and advocacy are needed, especially in counties that do not have many Hmong people. Our goal is to be the Hmong heritage leader, educator, advocate, and culture trainer/consultant for all providers, educators, policy makers, and individuals interested in the advancement of society, including the improvement of culturally and linguistically appropriate services and providing equitable services for Hmong and other underserved communities. We are committed to ensure that individuals desire to learn about Hmong heritage and serve the Hmong community have the opportunity to do so through our educational and professional development training. We offer one-on-one customized Hmong training, Hmong Culture Training Series, Hmong Mental Health Training Series, and other resources.
We are collaborating with committed partners (businesses, funders, government agencies, individual donors, etc.) to develop a healthy and safe environment to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate behavioral health services for the underserved communities in our Hmoob Kaj Siab Program. Hmoob Kaj Siab is a holistic day-time senior program that provides culturally and linguistically competent case management, mental health, senior activities, psycho-social education, and senior meals to Hmong and other underserved communities in Dane County. We are the first Hmong certified Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) in Dane County to provide mental health services to Hmong, Southeast Asian, and Nepalese clients, a team of dedicated bilingual staff who are experienced, trained, and licensed to provide mental health services in Dane County.
To ensure that we meet our elders nutritional needs, THI distribute culturally relevant foods twice per month to our elders and once a month for the community. In addition, elders who attend Hmoob Kaj Siab enjoy a daily home-cook meal, serving traditional Hmong dishes via our WI Senior Meal Program.
For preservation, our effort to preserve Hmong heritage aims to teach Hmong children and youth by teaching about their roots—history, language, and culture. Every summer, the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program (HLCEP), a nationally recognized and award-winning program, strives to increase Hmong students’ confidence through learning Hmong history, language, and culture, preparing elementary and middle school students for high school.
Our Hmong Day at the State Capitol is held every May—between May 14-18—at the Wisconsin State Capitol for statewide Hmong high school students. It is designed to teach Hmong history—What is May 14 and its impact on the Hmong people–and expose Hmong students to state government. The goal is fostering Hmong youth’s interest and leadership in civic participation via opportunities for youth to learn and meet legislators, governor/staff, and supreme court justices. Annually, over 150 Hmong high school students attend this event and went home with some Hmong pride.
In addition, we also develop and provide Hmong cultural trainings for providers, policy makers, and individuals interested in advancing the Hmong communities, an important responsibility to support those who are trying to help us make a difference not just for the communities we serve, but all Wisconsinites. As a result, interested individuals (educators, providers, etc.) who learn about Hmong culture indirectly help preserve some aspects of Hmong culture through practicing what they have learned.
Where We Are Going
Since 2018, we have built something special here at The Hmong Institute—passionate, creative, supportive, and hardworking staff, board of directors, volunteers, individuals, and partners who help us achieve our goals. Where are we going? We plan to advance the communities we live and strive to make Wisconsin a great home for all.
While Wisconsin is our new home and the Hmong community is still a new kid on the block, it is our responsibility to ensure that our young community pays forward by developing healthy-productive citizenships and communities. Our motivation comes from the sacrifices made by our parents who arrived in America as Hmong refugees, for they left us with a legacy of hard work, integrity, and rich culture.
We believe that to grow a resilient community we must have a strong foundation to produce well-rounded productive citizens and culturally competent partners and individuals. This includes the belief that:
Everyone is an active agent in creating a just society, regardless of socio-economic, race or legal status;
The communities most impacted by the issues are the faces and voices leading our work;
We must create a healthy and safe learning environment and foster innovative leaders;
Act with integrity, transparency, and accountability; and
Our educational effort must include instilling in Hmong youth and children the values of hard work and independence left behind from Hmong parents and grandparents who made great sacrifices to bring Hmong children to America.
Thank you for your support and please let us know if you have any questions or want to lend a hand, making an impact that matters!
Meet Our Team
Peng Her has over 20 years of community development experience working with elected officials, residents, businesses, and service providers. As a cultural broker, Peng has worked with City of Madison Police Department, educational institutions such as Edgewood College, law firms such as Quarles and Brady, and numerous nonprofits He helped developed the Hmong language and culture enrichment program that teaches Hmong students to read, write, speak in Hmong and about their history, heritage, and culture. The Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment program received the 2021 National Education Association Award for their work.
Peng helped establish the Hmong American Studies program at UW Madison and was a founding board member of the Hmong Chamber of Wisconsin. Peng was the recipient of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award in 2015 for his work to better his community. He currently sits on the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Committee and the Board for Access Community Health Centers.
In addition to his community work, Peng is a proud father of three and can be found spending time outdoors camping, fishing, canoeing, or hiking in the woods. He can also be found in the kitchen cooking for friends and family members.
Mai Zong Vue
Mai Zong Vue retired from working with Wisconsin Department of Health Services in 2023. Mai Zong is a cultural trainer and folklore performer, including Hmong poetry song and story teller since 1997. She is an alumni of UW-Madison.
Mai Zong has been a tireless advocate for the impoverished for the past 35 years, especially the Hmong people and refugees. She began to advocate for her family, extended family, and then the Hmong community in the 1980’s. Mai Zong’s advocacy and grass-roots activism led to the development of Hmong and refugee women non-profit agencies in Wisconsin and Georgia to provide human service; health and women’s empowerment and leadership services for refugee women; Refugee Family Strengthening Program (a domestic abuse program) in Wisconsin; the Hmong studies position at UW-Madison; the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program; and The Hmong Institute.
Nationally, Mai Zong served on a variety of boards that help improved the lives of others. Internationally, she volunteered as a delegate to global gatherings that aim to advance the status of woman and children, including the State Department’s Hmong-Lao Oversea Delegation to Laos in 2011 and Hmong American Delegation to Napho refugee camp in 1996, and the United Nation’s 4th Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Mai Zong has received numerous awards and honors for her tireless effort in serving the poor, including the YWCA of Dane County’s Women of Distinction, Authentic Hmong Leaders and Trailblazer.
Our Board members
Owner, Cha & Associates, Inc. American Family Insurance
Mixee Vang, Pharm. D.
Board Vice President
Associate Director, Industry Relations & Contracting, Navitus Health Solutions
Realtor, First Weber Minority Home Coalition
Jacob S. Lo
115th Fighter Wing, WI Air National Guard
Anne Pryor, PH.D.
Annabelle Vang, J.D.
Attorney, Kowalski, Wilson & Vang