Peckham’s manufacturing division in Lansing encompasses an incredibly diverse workforce – 60% female, 66% Non-white, 55% Non-English speakers. Youa Lee Xiong is one of the many immigrants who has found a second home working for that line of business. Like many of her colleagues, Youa left unstable political conditions and an authoritarian regime in her home country for the safety and freedom of the U.S. At 19 years of age, she, her husband, and their eight-month-old son arrived in Lansing from Laos as political refugees. Speaking only limited English, Youa’s opportunities for finding employment were initially scarce. Her first job was working at a hotel kitchen. While she was happy to be employed, she also knew she had skills and abilities beyond food preparation that could be put to better use elsewhere.
Having learned sewing basics in Laos, in 2004 Youa took a leap of faith and came to work as a sewing technician at Peckham. She quickly proved herself, advancing from basic work to mastering the more difficult sewing techniques. After a couple of years, she became a trainer. This promotion opened doors to meet people from many other countries and walks of life, something Youa says she immensely enjoys. She moved up to Team Lead 1, and recently took on the responsibilities of a Team Lead 2. She currently works on the wet weather MARS line, one of the most challenging military garment systems manufactured at Peckham. Youa was recognized as the Manufacturing Worker of the Year in 2018.
Youa said that it’s difficult for outsiders to appreciate all that Peckham has to offer. “Not until you get here, you realize all the opportunities that are available,” she explained. As she spoke about her experiences at Peckham, her positive outlook and demeanor become even more pronounced, and her smile bigger. She explained how, during lunch breaks, she took advantage of Peckham’s English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to improve her communications skills. She also completed Peckham’s U.S. citizenship class, which helped her prepare for and pass her citizenship exam. In addition, the company also provided financial assistance to help offset the costs associated with obtaining U.S citizenship.
“I am so happy to be here,” she repeated several times through the course of our conversation, a sentiment she applies to both the U.S. and Peckham. “If it wasn’t for Peckham, I’d still be looking for the right job for me,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to offer a better life for my family and my children. I wouldn’t have been able to gain the sewing and supervisory skills I now have.”
She doesn’t yet know what she wants to do next, but she trusts that she and her supervisors will recognize when she’s ready for the next step.