If you’re a proud Merced County local, it’s hard to find a sentiment that resonates louder than this: “A few years ago, I started noticing a lot of people in town saying, ‘where should we go?’ and ‘what should we do?’ and they were leaving town for fun. Instead of leaving Merced for fun, keep your money and our revenue in our own town. The way that can happen is by creating events to have our community come together locally. That's the reason why I created Tsunami Collaborations.”
Those feelings, shared by many proud Merced residents, were said by Sue Bangon Emanivong, the owner of Tsunami Collaborations, a member of the Valley’s Laotian community, and one of Merced’s hardest working residents. That’s the fuel behind Sue’s involvement in community events. Like many of us, she grew tired of hearing that Mercedians were going to take their money out of town to enjoy meals, festivals, or other events, when she knew there was opportunity for Merced to have those same experiences. That’s how Tsunami Collaboration was born. Sue’s young and consistently busy business, exists to give people a reason to stay and enjoy their own communities in Merced County.
She’s been a rising star in the Merced for almost two years by working events for the community, but by no means is she a newcomer - she’s proud to be born and raised here in the Central Valley. If you’re one of the few who have not met Sue personally (she’s the one who keeps a smile on her face, welcomes all, and laughs large while she’s planning and executing an event), it’s likely that you’ve experienced her work as she is behind the summer Street Faire, Red Nose Day, Kid’s Day, Merced’s Feast, and countless other events; many of which are done in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Merced Main Street Association, and many others.
If there’s something that’s just as important to Sue as uplifting Merced through community events, it’s that she does it with her team and not on her own. In fact, that’s the intent behind the name of Tsunami Collaborations. The “collaborations” part of her business is just as fundamental to her mission as bringing the community together. Her team volunteers their time and effort alongside Sue. Any conversation with Sue quickly leads to her giving credit to her team and it’s well-deserved. Her team consists of her family, their friends, her friends, a crew from the Rescue Mission. They do everything from prepping-making-serving food, to setting up and cleaning up each event, to organizing donation drives for youth, and so much more.
While Sue has been tirelessly supporting Merced in the last two years, she’s been putting that same heart and soul into supporting her Laotian family her entire adult-life. As a first generation Laotian whose parents came to America in the 80’s from a refugee camp, she has immense pride and passion for her Laotian family.
Sue credits watching and learning from her parents as the reason she can coordinate a community and plan events, as she has no formal training in this area. “A lot of it I learned from my mom. A Laotian wedding, a death, a blessing; these are big events and I learned how to help from doing those events from my mom. Organization, coordinating, watching what my mom did for the Laos community.” Not only can our community be grateful to Sue’s mom for training her up, those that attended the FEAST this last September can be thankful for the delicious Ka Poon (a soup) as the first course.
With no formal training, one has to ask how Sue got into this line of work. It happened when she was in a life transition – in between jobs and in between moving from Modesto to Merced. “When I was at home during my transition, I didn’t feel like I was doing what I needed to do. I was home too much, so I asked myself, what’s the purpose? And I realized that my purpose was to positively influence people's lives; that it was time to get out and help people.” That’s why her work is always geared towards the greater community or youth. She’s guided strongly by a few principles:
• 90% of her work is done pro bono. However, her goal is to become profitable so that she can give back to her volunteers and to pay for several out-of-pocket expenses.
• She only works on events that support the Merced community
• Her focus within the community is on our youth
Her most important rule of thumb? “If I’m doing something that’s raising money, it’s got to have a purpose. It has to go towards something with meaning.”
People like Sue build up our community and make it a safe, fun, and engaging place to live, work, and play. Her work is an example of the reason why Community Organizers are so important to our homes, neighborhoods, and towns; they prove that just one person can make a positive impact and make their homes a better place. Merced is fortunate to have many involved citizens that spend their time and resources to make our town a special town. Considering Sue’s impact to the greater Merced community has been so significant in just two years, it will be exciting to watch her contributions grow over time, and to see who she inspires along the way. Thank you to Sue and her team for all that you do for our community!