Having experienced homelessness himself, Alex Nguyen knows firsthand how challenging it can be to not have even the basic essentials.
Growing up as a first-generation Vietnamese child, raised by a single mother who had him at a young age, Alex faced many challenges that most of us can't even imagine. But instead of letting his difficult past define him, he decided to take action. This is what inspired him to start Project Peace Clothing.
Alex admits that he has dealt with some trauma and mental health issues growing up, and for this he decided to undergo a three-and-a-half-year therapy. Now, Alex is a mental health nurse, slowly working towards his psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree. He's passionate about helping people who struggle with mental health issues, especially those in the addiction population and the homeless community.
Through his clothing line, Alex is not only advocating for mental wellness and women's empowerment, but he's also helping the homeless community. For every purchase from Project Peace Clothing, Alex gives another homeless person not just the basic survival needs like food and water, but also a piece of clothing to help keep them warm on cold nights.
Alex's past has made him more compassionate and empathetic towards homeless people, and he's using his experiences to make a positive impact on the world. He believes that intentional acts of kindness, even if unnoticed, can cause a ripple effect that touches the lives of many.
Join us as we take a closer look at the inspiring story of Alex Nguyen and his mission to spread peace, love, and kindness through Project Peace Clothing.
- Can you tell us more about your background and share more about your experiences growing up? Can you share your experience once being homeless?
- My mother was only 17 when she got pregnant with me by my father, who fled the country one year after I was born. It was tough for my mother raising a child as a teenager, but it was also challenging for me. We never had a stable place to live. We packed our bags in the middle of the night multiple times because the rent was hard to pay. There are times we would sleep in our car or rent a motel day by day. While my mother was at work, she put me with other relatives. She dropped out of college. We lived a tough life with many ups and downs. Unfortunately, during my college years, things didn't get better. I was independent at this point and lived in a garage from a friend's house for years. I worked two jobs while going to UCI. I carpooled with two of my friends because I didn't have a car. I didn't have any support besides myself. This continued for the rest of my college years, and when I graduated, I thought my life would finally turn out for the better. 2017 is when I graduated, and I didn't know I suffered from mental illness. It wasn't apparent until 2018.
- Can you tell us more about your journey towards becoming a mental health nurse, and how your personal experiences have shaped your approach to helping those struggling with mental health issues?
- As I mentioned, growing up in an unstable household with no parent-like figure available. I learned everything on my own for the good and the bad. Unfortunately, I grew up with the mentality to survive. I did everything I could to make it. I made friends so that they could help feed me. I communicated with distant relatives and asked for support. I started working when I was 16. With all that in mind, I thought that money would make all my problems disappear. However, it wasn't until 2018, after graduating and becoming a nurse, I realized money wasn't happiness. I started working 60+ hours a week, sacrificing my health and isolating myself. I would weigh the benefits of hanging out with friends or whether I should work another shift and make money.
- 99% of the time, I would prioritize work. By 2021, I was working three jobs. I was not caring for myself mentally or physically. I overworked myself, and I ruined my body. Lack of sleep and exhaustion, a patient of mine fell, and I reached out and grabbed her. I permanently damaged my lower back. I was forced to leave two of my three jobs, which made me think and gave me time to reflect. I wasn't happy with money, and I wasn't happy without money. What made me happy? I think lots of thinking, and I always have a sense of peace and happiness when I care for those suffering from mental illness, whether it is a young guy that tried to suicide or a patient that was anxious and depressed. It was fulfilling when I spoke to these patients, and that's when I started transitioning to be a mental health nurse, and now I am in school trying to pursue my Psychiatric Mental Health NP degree.
- What inspired you to start Project Peace Clothing, and how did your own experiences with homelessness influence this decision?
- Being homeless growing up, I remember the freezing nights sleeping in my 1992 honda prelude. I can't imagine what it is like sleeping outside, especially in the rain. I would not survive, and that's my gift. I can put myself in other people's shoes. I can feel for other people's suffering because I suffered enough growing up. I care when others don't. I don't blame people for not being able to empathize with people experiencing homelessness. There are so many stereotypes. While working as a nurse, I create care packages for people without housing. I would go to Costco and Walmart and buy bags and supplies, put them together, and hand them out to people experiencing homelessness during the day or at night. I would leave a couple of bags in my car and hand them out when I can and when I see one. I started project peace clothing to do more than pass-out care packages. I also want to provide clothes and warmth to those who need them, especially at night when it is 30-40 degrees outside.
- How does your clothing line help empower women and help those in the homeless community and those with mental health problems?
- They empower women collection was inspired by my girlfriend of 10 years. I wouldn't be here today without her, so I dedicated this portion to her. This section focuses on positive messages that make women feel good and know they are worth it. I aim to provide a brand-new sweater to people experiencing homelessness with every purchase. By showing kindness and giving to people experiencing homelessness, I am showing them that I care about them. For others to open up to you, you must show them you care. As a future psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, I want to provide this population with free therapy sessions and other resources.
- How has your project impacted the community so far? Do you have stories you like to share with us about the people you have helped?
- My project is small. Being a nurse and a student in school with a family of 3 dogs and my girlfriend, I utilize my time and day as much as I can to help people at work and outside of work. I worked at Kaiser Permanente in LA, and I helped a lot of homeless out there by providing care packages that I made. While working at UCI Health, I did the same for people experiencing homelessness along the Santa Ana River trail. Just recently, I was ordering one of my favorite desserts called che, a Vietnamese dessert. I saw a young Asian homeless pacing back and forth in front of the shop. He reminded me of myself, and something deep inside me wanted to talk to him. I asked him, "hey, are you hungry? did you want anything?" he responded that he wished to the che 3 mau, but here at the hien Khanh, there are a few options, so I got all of the possibilities with some extra savory food for him to share with others. As I gave him the food, I remember he told me, " how's your day." I responded it is good, thank you. I walked back to my gf with me gf, and I was about to reverse. I saw him in my mirror, looking up into the sky after siping the dessert drink. To me, that was peace.
- How do you envision the intersection of fashion, mental health, and social activism evolving in the years to come, and what role do you hope to play in shaping this landscape?
- I don't know too much about fashion. Fashion is a minor thing I know about, but mental health is something I do know some things about. I finish school in about 1.5 years, and as I get more experience as a mental health nurse practitioner, I hope to provide therapy to all those in need, especially those who can't afford them. In my opinion, I feel everyone needs a little treatment to unwind and have someone to talk to with no judgment who honestly cares about them. As an NP in CA, I can open my clinic in the future, and that's when I hope to provide all the resources and help I can at a provider level. Right now, I am doing everything I can with my resources.
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a positive impact on their community, but isn't sure where to start?
- I suggest following your passion and trying to understand that specific community or population you want to help. Volunteer and talk to these people or the community. It is life-changing. You don't necessarily need to experience trauma or grow up in a complex environment. Still, you have to be willing to be open-minded and listen with the intent to attend and with the intent to talk.