Bridging Generations of Koreans in Bayside

Linda Lee (Photo via The Korea Times)

This spring, the new headquarters of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. (KCS) opened in Bayside, Queens. Among its leaders is executive director Linda Lee, a second-generation Korean-American.

Classes offered during construction

After moving its headquarters from 159th Street in Flushing to 32nd Avenue in Bayside, there was much to do such as decorating and renovating the interior space.

Linda Lee delivered news about KCS with a smile.

“We’ve almost reached the $1.5 million fundraising goal because the Korean community has been donating, including the first generation, so we will receive $3 million in matching funds from New York City. There’s a lot of work involved for that, like submitting documentation, but it’s really nice to have [a new center with] different types of rooms with different purposes.”

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The new headquarters is housed in a two-story building that is more than 35,000 square foot in size and located on a 54,000-square-foot property. It has an auditorium with a 700-seat-capacity, along with a banquet hall, a gym, an area for youths, as well as other spaces.

“We gave an estimation of two years for the construction. We had difficulty with fundraising because as a big organization, KCS also financially supports smaller organizations so it needs a large fundraising effort and doing that requires more expenses.”

Currently, KSC serves an average of 1,200 people a day in six different locations including the one in Bayside, the Korean American Senior Center of Flushing and the Korean American Senior Center of Corona.

For immigrants, KCS runs adult literacy and computer education programs and assists in immigration matters. For the elderly, KCS also runs educational, recreational and social welfare programs. In addition, public health, research and youth/home programs provide support for immigrants.

Learning the spirit of volunteering from home

Linda Lee was born in New York in 1979. Her parents volunteered in a church while her older sister, who works as a lawyer in Washington D.C., volunteered in Egypt, Middle Eastern countries and Africa after graduating from college.

Lee majored in finance at Barnard College and wanted to be a financial specialist. However, during summer break, she participated in a summer camp as a member of Campus Crusade for Christ, and she counseled teenagers from low-income families in the Bronx. She realized then that she wanted to serve people.

(…) In 2006, she went on to get a master’s degree at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

While she worked for New York State Health Foundation (NYS Health) in 2007-2009, she learned management and administrative skills. At that time KCS received funding from NYS Health, a first for a Korean organization.

Lee said, “Large, mainstream entities give out a lot of funding. The Chinese community has often received funding but the Korean community didn’t know about [receiving] money that way, so I wanted to help the Korean community.”

In 2009, she started working at KCS as the vice executive director and received training from President Kwang S. Kim. Lee became the executive director on July 1, 2012.

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Remembering her grandmother while looking after seniors

“I was very close to my grandmother, so I was very shocked when she died in 2007. She cared for me and my sister instead of my parents, who were running a laundromat on Long Island. My grandmother had once worked with Americans and so she could talk to me in broken English. The seniors at KCS naturally remind me of my grandmother.”

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“My parents sacrificed to provide money for our education after immigrating to the U.S. I want to give back to the Korean community for the support that we received [from them]. Also, I want to be a bridge between other ethnic communities and the Korean one.”

Linda said she has learned a lot from KCS.

“I’ve worked here for eight years and it’s still fun. I am always tired because it is a lot of work but I also get energized watching the seniors. I am grateful to the first generation.”

She was surprised that there was a different way of thinking between the first- and second-generation of Korean immigrants but she admitted it was another [part of the] learning process. She thought about what connects the two generations, and came up with a plan.

“My lawyer and doctor friends often ask me, ‘How can my parents get Medicare?’” The answer is KCS. The second-generation is, in this respect, linked to KCS.

She sees many elderly people picking up their grandchildren around 1 o’clock after senior classes, which end at 12 o’clock, so she is thinking of opening a day care center for toddlers at KCS.

After moving to the Bayside area, KCS has new neighbors from diverse races interested in [the organization], so Lee hopes to start Korean classes for them.

Looking ahead to the next 100 years

In 1973, when immigration [from South Korea] was on the rise, KCS emerged as the first Korean community welfare center on the east coast of the U.S. It is led by more second-generation immigrants than any other Korean organization in the area. Even though the fundraising culture [at the organization] has still not fully developed, Lee said that the engagement of the second-generation, who know this country very well, is such a big help.

Linda is always concerned about the money and is recruiting donors who can give $100 in support of the future Korean community 100 years from now.

The second stage of the goal is to raise $3 million. She wants to pass down the center to the second-generation without a mortgage.

“What I wanted to do most was start senior housing, but this project is in the future for now. The former head of the Korean American Senior Center of Corona volunteers from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day. She is 90 years old, but she doesn’t like to stay at home and she enjoys working. Watching her has made me work hard. One day, senior housing will be realized.”

Linda Lee is looking forward to the use of KCS building by first-, second- and third-generation Korean Americans and after the renovation has completed, the three generations being together at KCS in harmony.

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