By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (October 21, 2010) – The Korean Service Center celebrated its 20th Anniversary last weekend at Ramada Plaza Hotel in Minneapolis. It has much to celebrate as a model organization that has expanded its elder assisted living care to other immigrant groups that utilize the Cedar Towers. Yoonju Park, executive director, recognized elders and significant people who helped the organization come to being. She said that now is the time to turn over the KSC to second-generation Koreans and the adult Korean adoptee community. A special committee was formed to help make the transition a seamless one.
Park has overseen KSC growth to include a restaurant license to allow for expanded food services to elderly; work on assisting victims of human trafficking in the state; a family crisis center; and a Father’s Academy help address domestic issues.
The keynote address came from John Choi, a candidate for Ramsey County Attorney and the son of Korean immigrants. He said that growing up as a Korean American in a traditional family meant there was a lot of pressure to do well in school and to succeed – and that they have succeeded as individual professionals.
Choi said his transformative experience in giving occurred while working with the city and that he connects now to aspect of giving beyond one’s self to the betterment of the broader community.
“I think the one thing that we need to do more of is to connect to this country,” Choi added. “To connect to our government, connect to our civic affairs and to connect to organizations that are even beyond the Korean community of Minnesota.
Choi encouraged the community to contribute more of their time and talents and for more young people to pursue compassionate professions like the staff at the Korean Service Center.
“In Korea you couldn’t run for office if you weren’t born in Korea, but here in this country you can,” said Choi. “What a great country this is.
“As we celebrate we should try to incorporate that service model of doing things better above one’s self into our own lives – to contribute not only to the betterment of the Korean community but to the American community,” he added.
KSC founding director Grace Lee was present to recognize leaders that have kept her dream project going more than a decade past her retirement. She hopes that it will continue growing and to insure the community to do greater things.
“I am so grateful that it has grown so much and I am very proud of it,” said Lee.
She presented awards to leaders of two agencies instrumental in the development and operation of KSC: Cora McCorvey, executive director, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority; and, Dawn Simonson, executive director, Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging. She also presented an award to Yoonju Park.
McCorvey also presented KSC with a plaque to honor their work to low income and elderly people.
“We are just delighted that you have been very much a part of the Public Housing Authority for decades, providing outstanding services to our community’s most vulnerable and for Korean immigrants,” she added.
Simonson said her agency has learned from KSC.
“We have learned from Grace and we have learned from Yoonju,” said Simonson. “There have been times when we have called upon you to talk with our board and staff and it has always been with the deepest respect that the message is that Korean Service Center brings to our organization to help us better understand Korean elders and better understand minority elders and so to better understand how to help all elders.”
Also recognized were current and former KSC Board Members, Dr. Chang Won Song, Mrs. Miwon Pae and others. Entertainment included ESN Youth Group dancers, Ms. Myung Soon Lee, and the KSC staff choir.
The Korean Service Center was founded in 1990 with Grace Lee as its director. The KSC accomplished what many groups up to that time had been attempting for years, to establish a certified culturally appropriate assisted living program for the elderly. The center opened June 17, 1990 as Grace Place at the Minneapolis Cedars Pavilion, where it exists to this day.
The assisted living center was named for Grace Lee, who pioneered the project and kept the issue going through bureaucratic hurdles by meeting regularly with organizers and officials at all levels. Lee credited the State of Minnesota for funding a large part of the project, in part through the efforts of State Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-61) and House Representative Karen Clark (DFL-61A).
The assisted living center serves as a quality of life experience for mostly immigrant Korean elders. Where in Korea they would normally live their later years with children, the experience in the United States is much different without extended family and working children. They are isolated here and it contributes to emotional and physical health issues.
With elderly not yet ready for a nursing home, an assisted living situation with Korean speaking staff and cooks preparing Korean food. The atmosphere of living amongst elderly who share the same background and heritage and with full time care in an apartment setting helps them live longer and healthier than going right to a nursing home setting, said staff. The KSC is now working to help transition to very old into a similar full time care setting with culturally appropriate care.
The City of Minneapolis donated land near the Cedar Towers for elders to maintain a vegetable garden during the summer. It has taken off as a project so big they use the vegetables in their own facility and donate others to other programs.
Volunteers come in to do everything from cultural entertainment to voter education and health presentations.
The Hennepin County Health Department at the time said Grace Place not only keeps elderly out of the nursing homes before they need to be there, but with five percent fewer people in those nursing homes makes it possible to better care for those that need to be there and more affordably.
Grace Lee said that without the help and resourcefulness of her colleagues, this project would not have become a reality. She praised individuals involved at Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, the PHA and the Korean community.
“When Cedar Heights opened to us in 1990, I realized the problems facing us,” she said. “In this multicultural society, the elderly Korean community needed language, food, community, independence and dignity.”
The certification meant that elderly could afford the home through county spending reimbursements. If not a qualified center, the elders would have to pay out of pocket for rent, care, bills and allowances.
The KSC staff includes cooks, weekend volunteers, part-time Korean nurses, fulltime home-healthcare aids and recreational programs.