Vietnamese Heritage Camp held at Holiday Inn

Read the Estes Park Trail Gazette article featuring ATG’s own Jared Rehberg.


Vietnam Culture Camp — Unforgettable

ATG’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Aivy Nguyen, returned for another summer volunteering as camp counselor for Catalyst Foundation‘s Vietnamese Culture Camp. Here is her recap of her weekends.

“Two weekends. Two cities. One sad ATG’er who’s sad another year of camp is over.

Yet another wonderful year of camp has passed with more memories and stories with the kids, parents counselors and staff at Catalyst Culture Camps in Northfield, MN and New Haven, CT. With two camps back to back, my culturally fused weekend was a blur of kids, play-time, snack-time, arts, crafts, circle painting and the infamous never-ending piggy back rides.

Midwest Catalyst Culture Camp

East Coast Catalyst Culture Camp

This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen as camp counselor for both the Midwest and East Coast camps. Double the fun. Double the excitement. Double the amounts of lost sleep. All the while, it was very much worth every minute, because each Vietnamese adoptee I meet is a reminder of why I love doing what I do for ATG — providing ways to help raise funds for the orphans still in Vietnam so that they can hopefully one day have the same opportunities as the children I meet at Catalyst.

Day one of Minnesota camp is always a joy, as it gives the opportunity for many of the campers and parents to meet and get to know the counselors on a more one-to-one level. They also have their chance to dunk their favorite counselors during the Catalyst Carnival.

This year also reunited myself, Jack Nguyen and our incredible improv emcee skills for the counselor talent show. I was very impressed to see such an array of skills in acting, dancing, fiddle-playing and most impressively — song writing. Catalyst Culture Camp finally got its theme song, thanks to the counselors from Group 4 who re-wrote the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “California Girls” for culture camp. To see/hear a real treat, visit the Catalyst Foundation Fan Page.

The addition of Circle Painting and Vovinam also brought different cultural learning lessons to camp. The kids learned how to build onto each other’s creativity with painting, as well as the great art of martial arts and self-defense with Vovinam.

With more activities that filled the day than I could imagine, the best of all of them was getting to bond with the kids. Each one with their own story, their own history, their own personalities and ability to adapt. Every year I return, I grow more impressed and attached, not only with the kids, but the parents who have given a piece of themselves to share their lives and love. To the parents and kids, I thank you again for another great summer.

To see more of Aivy’s camp adventures, be sure to visit our ATG Fan Page and check out our photo albums!

Going Against the Grain: Cykochik’s Nikki Duong Koenig

Cykochik Custom Handbags Founder/Designer Nikki Duong Koenig

We love handbag designer Nikki Duong Koenig for her creativity in not only her work, but the process and thought behind how she does it. We are thrilled to get to premiere her latest collection at this year’s upcoming Fashion for a Passion!

Cykochik Custom-Handbags was first conceived in Nikki’s small Southern Methodist University dorm room. While living in Dallas and working on her BA in Advertising and Fine Art, she naturally combined her passion for fashion and art to produce an innovative line of custom handbags.

With Cykochik earning its position as a booming handbag label, Nikki then jetted off to New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). While there, she was able to hone her design and business skills in the CEO program.

Much of Nikki’s vibrant aesthetic is drawn from her experiences in NYC, photography, art, nature and her Vietnamese heritage. When it comes to fashion, she follows her own instincts instead of trends, since styles/trends are in a constant state of reinvention. As is everything in life, hence the “cycle” in the name Cykochik.

Nikki is a fervent believer in individualism and the freedom to express it, without endangering others in the process. She works only with animal & eco-friendly vinyls and is dedicated to quality craftsmanship, creativity and customization.

Cykochik Vanguard Bot Bag

Full name:

Nikki Duong Koenig


Dallas, TX

Current City:

Dallas, TX


Vietnamese American

What does it mean for you to “Go Against The Grain?”

It’s a state-of-mind, being able to trust/follow my instincts and not second-guessing myself despite external obstacles or influences. We should all “Go Against the Grain,” so that there is no grain to have to go against.

What made you decide to pursue a career in the fashion/handbag industry?

Like most designers, I was immersed in fashion and creativity growing up. So it was both nature and nurture that brought me into two very creative industries, fashion and advertising. The latter was a conscious decision to study at SMU, while handbag designing occurred more organically as I was pursuing a career in advertising.

What have been some of the challenges you faced/lessons you learned as an Asian American in a very competitive industry?

I try to look at challenges as opportunities to learn valuable lessons and grow. It’s something I face two-folds as an Asian American woman in the very competitive fashion and advertising industries. I guess I share the same blessing/curse as most Asian American women in looking much younger than they really are. So it’s a minor challenge to get the initial respect I need in a corporate setting, but I’ve learned to establish/prove my experience very early on.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment, and why?

Getting to do what I love and being able to support myself and others while doing it.

What do you hope to achieve?

I hope to inspire others and to make a positive impact with my art/designs.

Who inspires you?

My family. Their strength and courage in leaving Vietnam to brave a whole new world is a constant inspiration for me to pursue my dreams.

What is the most important lesson/advice you would give?

“Just Do It” like Nike, because nothing will happen unless you start it.

What’s up next?

Working with six amazing artists on the second Artist Series Collection, which will be debuting at Fashion For A Passion Sept. 25th!

Booklist Reviews Operation Babylift

Thank you to Booklist for the wonderful review on our award-winning documentary Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam. The review will be sent out nationally in their online  September 2010 e-newsletter.  

Commemorating Operation Babylift, a U.S. relief effort that rescued more than 2,500 orphans out of Vietnam in 1975, this update is an informative and passionate look at the aftermath of war and the innocent children lostin the chaos of battle. Filmmaker Tammy Nguyen Lee combines archival black-and white film footage of bombings, evacuations, orphaned babies, and more with interviews with parents, volunteers, and rescued Vietnamese adoptees (now adults) who tell their stories with honesty and poignancy. Camera close-ups help intensify adoptees’ recollections of growing up in the U.S., where antiwar sentiments precipitated some racist behaviors. Efforts to discover their own identities vary from attending adoptees reunions (first organized in 2000) and visiting Vietnam to attempting to adopt a Vietnamese orphan (one of the most emotional stories). One interviewee shares that only when his child was born did he experience the feeling of his own flesh and blood. Extras include further discussions with adoptees and additional footage.  — Edie Ching

2010 Fashion For a Passion Adds Extra Edge to Lineup

Proceeds from charity fashion show to benefit international orphanages

Fashion For a Passion LogoDALLAS, TX – The 2nd Annual Fashion For a Passion (FFAP) hosted by Dallas nonprofit ATG Against The Grain Productions will feature a diverse lineup of local and national Asian American fashion designers united to raise money for charity.  This year’s event will feature the collection of Chloe Dao (Season 2 winner of Project Runway), Khanh Nguyen for Nhã Khanh, Nikki Duong Koenig for Cykochik Custom Handbags featuring Freedom Parc, Prashi Shah for Prashe and Judy Yang. Newly added to edge up the roster are local designer Cac Lam for 2FeMale and New York-based designer Sumie Tachibana, as well as LeeAnne Locken (actress/model and finalist from She’s Got the Look) who joins fashion blogger Tina Craig of to emcee. The charity event takes places from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, September 25th at LandCo/7 Senses located at 1202 N. Riverside in Dallas, Texas. 

The night’s festivities feature musical entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, a silent auction and a fashion show of sneak-peeks, followed by a live auction of select pieces from each presenting designer’s collection and other exclusive pieces donated by Asian American designers around the country. The proceeds of the evening go to benefit orphanages in Vietnam and ATG’s community outreach initiatives. Against The Grain President/Founder Tammy Nguyen Lee, a graduate of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, said, “This is an exciting showcase of the talents of our community for a worthy cause, and we are particularly proud to collaborate with and showcase this diverse talent who truly represent the boldness and spirit of what it means to go ‘against the grain.’”

2Female Sumie Tachibana

Designer Cac Lam, who studied at the Art Institute of Dallas and whose aesthetic is wild and crazy, said, “It’s rare that we get the opportunity to step back from the glitz and glamour of our craft to lend our hearts and hands to those who need them, so I jumped at the chance to participate.” Added Lam, “To go against the grain for me means to bring a style and uniqueness to my work that is from the soul, not society. I am the only me, so if I give the world work that is from my mind, my heart and my core, it will always be against the grain.”

Designer Sumie Tachibana, whose style is bold and edgy, studied at the University of Texas at Austin and the famed Parsons School of Design in New York. “It’s a great honor to be invited to do a show with this very talented group of designers.” Added Tachibana, “I truly appreciate and embrace being different. I design non-trend driven clothing for women and men that appreciate the beauty of being independent.”

LeeAnne LockenLeeAnne Locken, a feisty model/actress who became even more well-known as a finalist on Season 2 of She’s Got The Look, said, “I am very happy to be on board for this wonderful event. Fashion is in my blood, and I think of great pieces of clothing as literal works of art.” Continued Locken, “I strive to be unique…in speaking my mind and always trying to have fun. Going against the grain means doing whatever it takes to be successful. I am not a big ‘go with the flow’ kind of person. I am the ‘get out the way, here she comes’ kind of person.”

FFAP event tickets range from $40-$50, and sales for the event begin on August 11th online at

ATG Against The Grain Productions, a Dallas-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, promotes Asian-American cultural awareness through compelling media projects and raises funds for international orphanages. Their premiere documentary feature, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, has received the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the Vietnamese International Film Festival and the Documentary Audience Choice Award from the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. For more information, visit or



Newsday: Nassau Woman Keeps Memory of “Operation Babylift” Alive

Updated: Jul 17, 2010 05:38 PM
It was the final days of the Vietnam War in April 1975 as Saigon was falling, and the United States launched one last massive effort: To airlift as many orphans as possible out of the country.
In the three weeks before the last helicopter lifted off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy, some 2,548 babies and children were flown out. Most ended up in the United States, including about 100 on Long Island.
Now, at the 35th anniversary of the end of the war, “Operation Babylift” is gaining renewed attention, partially because of a Nassau County woman who led the humanitarian effort and adoption campaign on Long Island.
Lana Noone, of Franklin Square , adopted two of the infants and was a main organizer of local families who took in children from Babylift. She helped send supplies, such as baby formula, to Vietnam before the children’s arrival to the United States and then organized outings, cross-cultural events and parties as they grew up.
Next week Noone will speak about Operation Babylift as part of a retrospective program on the Vietnam War hosted by the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts museum. The event will be held at the site of the 1969 Woodstock concert.
Her appearance follows the release of a documentary that opened nationwide this year.
Last year, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., hosted, for the first time, an event to mark Operation Babylift. “Finally, after the 35th anniversary, we’ve gotten this recognition,” said Noone, 63, who appeared at the Smithsonian.
The first sickly infant she adopted, Heather, died a month after arriving on Long Island , and Noone says she vowed to dedicate the rest of her life “to make sure no one would forget there was a Vietnam babylift and her short life would not be in vain.”
Noone’s other adopted daughter, Jennifer, was found wrapped in a blanket in a garbage can in a Saigon market, a common practice by Vietnamese mothers who hoped their babies would be found and placed in a good orphanage. Jennifer Noone, now 35, is a social worker in Manhattan.
Lana Noone says her daughter Jennifer became a cheerleader at H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square , a class vice president and a member of the National Honor Society. She went on to graduate with honors from Drew University before attending Columbia University , where she earned her master’s degree.
“I don’t have a day where I don’t think of these birth parents,” Noone said. “My life is full. But it is over their tragedy.”
Jared Rehberg, one of the adoptees who now lives in Queens , helped produce the documentary “Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam ,” and says Babylift lasted just a few weeks “but it changed a lot of lives.”
He still does not know what day he was born, or how he ended up at an orphanage in Vietnam. “It’s kind of a mystery,” he said, adding that he returned to Vietnam in 2005 as part of a group of 21 adoptees who visited for several days.
“It was a little closure for me,” he said.
Today, Lana Noone runs a group and website,, that tries to keep alive the memory of what some call one of the largest humanitarian missions in history. She often receives e-mails from Babylift adoptees trying to track down their birth parents, or from birth parents – including U.S. veterans – trying to track down their children born in Vietnam.
Operation Babylift was criticized by some as a cynical attempt by the United States to generate good public relations amid the debacle of the end of the war. But Noone says she thinks there was little choice.
“I sincerely feel it was the only thing that could have been done,” she said. “They were in harm’s way. There was a war. With all the chaos that was going on, they weren’t on the top of anyone’s list.”

A Camping We Will Go…

Catalyst Culture Camp

Aivy Nguyen at Catalyst Culture Camp

Last year’s experience as a camp counselor for Catalyst Culture Camp was such a wonderful one, so I’m returning as a veteran counselor for not just one camp, but both! This weekend, I will be working my first year with the St. Olaf camp in Minnesota. The kids and parents from last year’s east coast camp in New Jersey left such great memories and stories to remember. Three days of meeting families, cultural craft making and bonding made me appreciate what Catalyst does for the adoptees here, and it only motivates and inspires me more with ATG to provide for those in need overseas.  I eagerly wait to meet more inspiring families at St. Olaf!
— Aivy Nguyen, Dir of Marketing/PR

Colorado Vietnamese Heritage Camp

Jared Rehberg at Colorado Vietnamese Heritage Camp

I always look forward to Colorado Vietnamese Heritage Camp during the summer time. This special weekend in Colorado is filled with new music for all the campers, presenting life stories with my adult adoptees friends to the adoptive parents and last and certainly not least, bonding with the young generation of adoptees.
This year I will also be screening the film Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam. DVDs will be available at the screening. I love catching up with the campers I’ve met since my first camp over 6 years ago. We have drinks and share our joys and sorrows from the years past. I’m especially excited to bring new adult adoptees to share their stories at our adult workshops. It’s quite a trip for many, but well worth it in the end.
— Jared Rehberg, Dir of Community Outreach

January 2019
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