- Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
At the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), many of the colleagues consider each other family. But for Audria Chea and Samnang (Sam) Khoeun, it's more than just a saying – it's a fact. The couple, who started dating in 2002, were connected through their shared experience as Cambodian refugees who fled the nation as children during the Khmer Rouge. While Audria works with the team in the Statewide Head Injury Program (SHIP), Sam focuses on helping individuals with disabilities find their career paths as a member of the vocational rehabilitation (VR) team. As agents of change, they offer humanity and opportunity to the people they serve.
When Samnang Met Audria
Audria attended graduate school at Boston University's School of Social Work and spent time in Cambodia as part of a research project. She was there when the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 occurred. While seeking sanctuary at the Foreign Correspondence Center in Cambodia she met Sam’s younger brother Sophoan. When she returned home she connected with Sam, who was an architect living Chicago, at an event in Boston. "In 2002, Sam very seriously pursued our relationship. Eventually, in 2006, he moved to Boston, and in 2008 we got married," Audria recalled.
In 2004, Audria joined MRC as a program coordinator in SHIP. As their wedding date drew near, Sam was looking to start a new career journey, and Audria encouraged him to turn to human services for a new career opportunity. She recognized that Sam was outgoing and compassionate and thought he would be a great fit as an outreach rehabilitation counselor, helping individuals who experienced trauma from their childhood. Sam became a fierce advocate as a counselor and in 2016, Audria encouraged Sam to join MRC as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor in the Lowell office. "I saw immense potential in Sam," she remembered.
Creating Connection in their Community
Since joining the Agency, Sam has built a strong bond within the AAPI community in Lowell. He holds regular office hours at the Lowell Education Center (LEC). While at the LEC, Sam encourages Cambodians and other Asian Americans to pursue their education and career goals. He works hard to build trust within Cambodian and other Asian American communities. Sam enjoys the challenge and the opportunity to show how the agency can offer individuals find careers in any field their interested in. Sam has helped members of the AAPI community start their own business, find work as a pharmacy technician, and some that work in clean rooms at pharmaceutical companies. "I really enjoy working with people, especially those who don't speak English or understand the culture,” Sam says.
As a member of the SHIP team, Audria is a fierce advocate for people with head injuries, making sure they are aware of the services and resources that are available to them. As a member of the team, Audria works with individuals who come for different cultures. They experience life with mental health issues that Audria can be empathetic too. She is a voice of the AAPI community in the field, connecting with other Asian Americans and working to educate individuals she works with about prejudices that exist in the society. "I am very proud to be the voice of the AAPI and immigrant in my department,” Audria shared. “I bring value to my team that no other training can offer.”
Audria and Sam are proud Americans and still celebrate their culture whenever they can. They teach their children about the food and culture that their family shared with them, even after they left Cambodia. They are members of the Cambodian Communities in Lowell, Revere, and Lynn, Massachusetts. Recently, the Asian American community has been targeted by increasing amounts of discrimination and threats of violence, Sam and Audria have made it a priority to share who they are as people and as Cambodian Americans, to educate their communities on AAPI culture and ethnicity. "I want to let everyone at the agency know our struggle, and the individuals we serve who are AAPI, their struggle, and experience."
"I'm very fortunate. I have Sam with me, who understands our Community's struggle outside the agency," said Audria. "He's always been behind me and supported me in every way." Sam shared the same sentiment of Audria. "She's my one and only," he said with a smile. "I went all around the world, to Cambodia, to look for someone, to find someone I love. She fulfills me as a whole person and as a Cambodian American."