A little over a year ago, in the height of the pandemic, the Chinese American Service League (CASL) saw a need. Like many direct service nonprofits, CASL responded to families in crisis, providing food, clothing, PPE, housing resources, and financial assistance.

Founded more than 40 years ago and located in Chinatown, CASL’s educational, enrichment, legal, and social services reach children, adults, and seniors throughout Chicago. Most are of Asian American and Pacific Islander decent (AAPI) and living in disinvested communities.

The pandemic has further strained families as they deal with job and income loss, changes in childcare and education, illness and health complications, and more. The AAPI community isn’t immune to these challenges. The Model Minority Myth reinforces the stereotype that Asian Americans are “a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving,” says Sarah-Soonling Blackburn in her article “What Is the Model Minority Myth?” in Learning for Justice.

CASL is working to dispel the myth, especially in light of the pandemic and a rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community. Where did they start? CASL’s Annual Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) Report. The data collected in 2020 and 2021 to learn more about their clients’ well-being took a turn.

“Our SDoH reports showed a substantial increase in people who said they did not feel safe in their own neighborhood as anti-Asian hate crimes have risen across the country,” said Brandi Adams, director of development and communications at CASL. “In 2020, less than 30% expressed those feelings, and in 2021, about 45% provided that answer. This indicated to us there was an unmet need for mental health services and support systems for victims of hate.”

CASL responded by securing funding to launch the Midwest’s only Anti-Hate Action Center, in partnership with The Asian American Foundation, as well as their new Behavioral Health and Clinical Services Department to offer comprehensive, person-centered mental health and wellness support.

CASL’s SDoH report has always utilized disaggregated data, breaking down their findings by specific ethnic subgroups. Whereas aggregate data lumps together the entire AAPI community, making invisible the challenges and issues faced by many individuals and families, disaggregated data reveals the unique needs and inequities experienced by diverse AAPI subgroups.

CASL knew their system of data collection worked—so what if they expanded it to help more people across the Chicago region, in Illinois, and even nationally? Change InSight was born.

“We launched Change InSight in early 2022,” Brandi said. “Much like our annual SDoH Report gathers data from our clients to understand their well-being, Change InSight expands this beyond our community to other social service organizations across the country. After conversations with other social service organizations, funders, and elected officials, it was clear there is a widespread and great need for data specific to AAPI communities to help identify and understand their unique needs.”

Some of these unique community needs are seen in the data. Aggregate data shows only 10% of Asian Americans are below the poverty rate, which is better than the poverty rate of all Americans at 13%. But this hides the reality for Asian American subgroups that experience significantly higher rates of poverty: 13% of Chinese Americans, 16% of Malaysian Americans, 17% of Hmong Americans, and 25% of Burmese Americans (Pew Research Center).

“Change InSight represents an opportunity to raise the volume of AAPI voices and the social injustices our communities face, like the Model Minority Myth and disaggregated data,” Brandi said. “Not only that, but it offers the opportunity to improve the well-being of underserved communities across the country. Through data collected by Change InSight partners, we’ll be able to help other organizations deliver targeted solutions to individual communities to address critical needs, like housing, hunger, poverty, and mental health.”

For now, Change InSight has launched with some local partner organizations, like Apna Ghar and Indo-American Center in the Chicago region, but CASL plans to expand the platform nationally next year.

“We know the Change InSight model works; CASL has experienced it first-hand,” Brandi said. “We’re excited to share this program and its benefits with other partnered social service agencies as we collectively work toward a more just and equitable future.”

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, United Way is excited to support the important work of our agency partner CASL and the launch of Change InSight. Learn more here.