Jackie Bong Wright and Welcome House: A Short Biography

One of the newspaper articles that we looked at, “Refugees Adjusting to a Land of Plenty,” in the Washington Post mentioned an organization called Welcome House. Welcome House sought to help Vietnamese refugees settle into life in the U.S. by helping them help themselves. The woman who was a key player in the organization, Jackie Bong Wright, was herself of Vietnamese descent and she has had a very interesting life in the United States. `

After escaping from Vietnam in April 1975 (right before the fall of Saigon), Bong-Wright spent time in various refugee camps before ending up in Camp Pendleton in California. She spent about a month in Pendleton before hearing from Sandy McDonnell, whom she had met in Saigon. McDonnell was the Chairman of the McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Corporation, and he sponsored her and her three children to live with his family in St. Louis, Missouri. However, life in St. Louis did not sit well for Bong-Wright and her children, and the trauma of their escape from Vietnam haunted them.[1]

Life took an unexpected turn when Bong-Wright was invited by her friend, Barbara Clay, who was associated with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Saigon, to live in Old Town, Alexandria. Bong-Wright later described her observations of the United States as being “enormous” in terms of people, buildings, and even highways. Feeling overwhelmed by the adjustment to life in the U.S., Bong-Wright felt a need to help other refugees from Southeast Asia adjust to life in the U.S. Bong-Wright volunteered at the Indochinese Reception Center in Washington, D.C., which focused on providing information and job assistance for refugees in the region. However, after meeting and marrying Lacy Wright, a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Bong-Wright and her children again relocated, this time to Milan, Italy, where Lacy was stationed. While in Italy, Bong-Wright realized that ever since she had fled Vietnam, she had not allowed herself time to grieve for the loss of her family and loved ones who were left behind in Vietnam. [2]

Bong-Wright and her family eventually returned to the Washington metro area by 1978 and remained there for the next seven years. These seven years gave Bong-Wright and her children the stability that they needed to recover from their experiences in Vietnam and to become familiar with American customs. After arriving back in the United States, she worked to help other Vietnamese refugees in the Washington area. On her website, Bong-Wright described the struggles that “boat people” experienced in obtaining health care, jobs, housing, and adjusting to American culture. Bong-Wright noted the “boat people” as being “completely different” from the “educated, urban” refugees who came to U.S. following the fall of Saigon.[3]



Fig. 1 C.N. Trueman, “Vietnamese Boat People”, The History Learning Site, 27 Mar 2015. Accessed 5 Nov 2015, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/vietnam-war/vietnamese-boat-people/.

Bong-Wright was contacted by a group of Southeast Asian refugees (who were interestingly sponsored by churches in Alexandria, VA) who were requesting her help in finding services. In response to these requests, Bong-Wright, along with some of her American-born friends, formed a committee and an organization: IRSS (Indochinese Refugees Social Services, Inc). Bong-Wright also created Welcome House, which provided temporary and emergency housing for refugees. Welcome House, by October of 1979, had helped thirty refugee families from Southeast Asia settle in the Washington area. Welcome House’s purpose, Bong-Wright stated in an interview with the Washington Post, was to “help them find a place to live, enroll them in English classes, help them get jobs and put them in contact with the proper social agencies.” Bong-Wright’s approach to helping Indochinese refugees through teaching them self-sufficiency impressed the federal volunteer program ACTION and its deputy director Mary E. King, who stated that Welcome House was “just the sort of work ACTION likes to see: People helping people.” [4]

Both IRSS and Welcome House provided social services for Southeast Asian refugees. Welcome Bong-Wright tells of an incident where she took a family (the article did not specify where the family was from, but they were probably from Southeast Asia) to a doctor and subsequently to a hospital. The child was sick with skin and stomach infections, and the hospital required that the child be separated from the mother for treatment. Bong-Wright recalled that both the mother and child were extremely upset and that she had to convince the mother to let the child be taken away. This article concluded with a quote from Jackie regarding the problems faced not only by this particular family but by other refugees: “[w]hat we are also talking about here are cultural problems.” [5]

Jackie is currently the president of the Vietnamese-American Voters Association, an organization providing civic, social, cultural, and health services to Vietnamese Americans. She also focuses her energy on registering Vietnamese Americans to vote. [6]


1. Jackie Bong-Wright, “Author” Jackie Bong Wright, accessed October 29, 2015, www.jackiebongwright.com/about-jackie/author. The father of Bong-Wrights children was her first husband, Nguyen Van Bong (head of the National Institute of Administration in South Vietnam). At the time of his death, President Nguyen Van Thieu had asked Bong to become Prime Minister of South Vietnam. He was assassinated in 1971. Bong-Wright recounts on her website her husband’s assassination.

2. Ibid.  Bong-Wright later utilized her experiences with volunteering at the Indochinese Reception Center in the founding of Welcome House.

3. Ibid.


4. Kerry Dougherty Washington, “Refugees Adjusting to a Land of Plenty,” The Washington Post, February 14, 1980, pg. VA8; Jackie Bong-Wright, “Author” Jackie Bong Wright.

5. Washington, “Refugees Adjusting to a Land of Plenty;” Jackie Bong-Wright, “Author” Jackie Bong Wright; .Janis Johnson, “Virginia Officials Worry Over Rise in Refugee Health Costs,” The Washington Post, July 10, 1980, Virginia Weekly, Va. 2.

6. Jackie Bong- Wright, “About Jackie” Jackie Bong Wright, accessed October 29, 2015, http://jackiebongwright.com/about-jackie/.


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