By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
On August 19, 1983, the Korean Community Service Center (KCSC) was a vision shared by five women. They wanted to help immigrant Korean women who couldn’t help themselves in cases of domestic abuse. They gave a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Today, KCSC still strives to give a voice to the voiceless, but it has expanded into an agency run by 40 workers, most of whom are volunteers (only the office intakers are paid), and 10 board members. Their services have expanded beyond domestic abuse cases and include a summer youth leadership program, information referral, interpretation and translation, individual and family counseling, crisis intervention, legal aide service, a pro bono legal clinic, parenting education, and immigration services, among other services.
“Our core principle is making sure immigrants’ lives are made a little bit easier,” said Samuel Chung, Board Chair of KCSC and founder of its pro bono legal clinic. “Fortunately, we have a group of very dedicated volunteers. It’s amazing the good will we have here.”
For Korean immigrants, KCSC has been an indispensable resource.
“We speak their language, literally, so there’s a huge comfort level,” Chung said.
Sunny Cho, who has been the volunteer executive director for KCSC for about a year, said that there is a huge language and cultural barrier that immigrants must overcome when they come to America. Oftentimes, they don’t know how to receive help from the government or how to navigate the legal system.
“My clients are low income people, they have a struggle because of financial status and they don’t know the benefits [they are eligible for],” said Cho, whose expertise is helping connect people with social services. For example, people may not know how to apply for Medicare, social security, low-income housing, food stamps, or other benefits.
Cho’s passion to help others stems from personal experience.
“A long time ago, I was in a very hard situation. I didn’t know anything to get benefits from the government or how to get paid,” Cho said. After being in that situation, Cho said, “I was interested in finding information or benefits for others. That’s why I started social service work.”
KCSC’s pro bono legal clinic has been one of the more successful and celebrated aspects of KCSC. Chung, who started the program 21 years ago, said that the legal system is different in Korea and that many immigrants, in addition to a language barrier, have trouble understanding how law works in America.
“People have a lot more legal issues come up (here), but they didn’t have the wherewithal to get legal help,” he said.
KCSC hasn’t been without troubles. From 2008 to 2010, KCSC had to shut down as support ran dry and the recession took its toll. During that period, Board Member Buwon Brown said that her phone had been ringing nonstop with people asking for help.
They were able to open again, but only in one location. The office is a small, unassuming space in the otherwise empty second floor of a plaza building off of Aurora Ave. in Edmonds. The office is not adequate for everything they want to do, Chung said.
There are plans to expand KCSC, though. In five years, Chung hopes that he will be able to double or triple the budget and move to a better location, ideally in Shoreline. Brown and Cho said that currently, there are no other similar services for the Korean community in the North Seattle/Shoreline area. In order to expand KCSC’s services, Chung said funding is key.
Currently, KCSC is applying for grants and hopes to work with the county and other government agencies.
Additionally, there is a hope to expand the reach of KCSC to help those from other Asian countries.
“At this point, we only concentrate on the Korean community, but in the future, we want to help all the communities,” Cho said.
Brown said that they already get calls from Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants who want help from KCSC. Someone from Japan even went so far as to bring Korean friends who could speak both languages.
Expanding KCSC’s counseling program is another goal. Last year, family counseling made up just 1 percent of the cases KCSC handled. Chung said that many first-generation Koreans have an unfavorable view of counseling and that often times, they will try to take care of problems within the family.
“There’s a tendency among first-generation to kind of sweep it under the rug,” Chung said. “… We want people to try and reach out and get help, instead of trying to resolve it on their own.” (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be contacted at email@example.com.