Bernarda “Bernie” Wong
NAAAP 100 Honoree
Bernarda Wong, better known as “Bernie,” is a philanthropist and career social worker. She was the first President of the Chinese American Service League (CASL), which she founded with several friends. Under Wong’s leadership, CASL grew from a one-person shop in 1979 with an annual budget of $30,000 to a 500-person, $13 million operation serving some 17,000 members of Chicago’s Chinese community with job training, senior care, daycare, family counseling, and education services. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Wong’s humble, early life and difficult experiences set the stage for her mission-driven approach to serving others with dignity and respect. At eighteen, Wong left Hong Kong for Sioux City, Iowa, where she earned a B.A. in Sociology from Briar Cliff College and later a Masters in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis.
In addition to her work at CASL, Wong is active in other community roles. She chaired the Chicago Mayor’s Advisory Council on Asian Affairs and was the first Asian appointed to the boards of the United Way of Chicago and the Chicago Public Library. She also served on the Governor’s Asian Advisory Council, the Leadership of Greater Chicago Board, and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Currently, Bernie serves on the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging Board, the Council for the Illinois Department on Aging, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Board, and the Obama Foundation Inclusion Council. Wong is also a founder of Chinese Immigrant Service Agencies Network International.
Through her work for the community, Ms. Wong has received several accolades for her achievements. Her awards include the Distinguished Alumni Award from both of her alma maters, the Jane Addams Making History Award for Distinction in Social Service, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Outstanding Community Leader Award for the Chicago Chapter, the YWCA Outstanding Leaders – Racial Justice Award, the Distinguished Community Leader award from Mayor Richard Daley, and “Champion of Change” award from President Obama. In September 2016, the city dedicated a street outside of CASL as Honorary Bernarda “Bernie” Wong Way, and she retired with CASL cofounder Esther Wong at the end of 2016.