Services for Korean Seniors, and More, from KCS

The new executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Linda Lee, at the office of the KCS Bayside center. (Photo courtesy KCS via Korea Daily)

[Editor’s note: The story has been updated and corrected to reflect the fact that Ms. Lee did not make any mention of the New York City Council in her interview.]

Linda Lee is taking over as the new executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York (KCS). As a second-generation Korean American, she was born in Elmira, New York, and when she was 10 years old she moved to Nassau County. “At last, KCS has moved from one generation to the next. Hopefully, KCS will develop as a more specialized organization, expanding services to non-Koreans,” said Kwang-suk Kim, who is a former executive director and a first-generation Korean American.

Joining an American community center

Lee talked about the future direction of KCS as a nonprofit Korean organization in New York. She revealed two goals – “professionalism by more second-generation Korean Americans” and “strong interaction with other ethnicities.”

When she started working for KCS, nine years ago, she was the only full-time worker as a second-generation Korean American. Today, not only regular employees but also members of the board of directors are composed of 1.5- or second-generation Korean Americans. [Editor’s note: First-generation Korean Americans are adults born in Korea who moved to the U.S.; 1.5-generation are their children, who were born in Korea but grew up in the U.S., and second-generation Korean Americans were born in the U.S.]

Lee said: “First-generation Korean Americans in senior positions play an essential role in communicating with residents, helping to select and operate KCS’ projects. KCS wouldn’t be able to operate without their advice.” She added: “The first generation has achieved the growth of the Korean immigrant community with a ‘fast and quick’ spirit based on ‘survival mode.’ On the other hand, second-generation Korean Americans have an advantage of specialized knowledge with a long-term perspective.”

In order to meet the needs of the Korean community, which is more affluent than before, she believes that KCS needs to strengthen its political standing in the mainstream society and show more of its presence.

Led by welfare experts of the second generation, KCS is enhancing its presence in the Korean community through direct interaction with the government of New York City and local associations in Queens. After a six-month review period, KCS is now the only Korean member of United Neighborhood Houses (UNH is the membership organization of 40 New York City settlement houses and community centers).

Having been recognized as a nonprofit organization by joining UNH, KCS was invited to a meeting hosted by the Nonprofit Resiliency Committee (NRC), which was started by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and discussed major issues, such as financial support for small nonprofit organizations.

Starting a program to help nonprofits with financial difficulties

Lee said: “KCS is smaller compared to other mainstream nonprofit organizations, making it more competitive to get government funding.” Government funds tend to go to large organizations, allowing those organizations to subcontract work to smaller ones.

One of KCS’ projects, “Homebound Meal,” which delivers meal boxes to seniors with limited mobility, receives funding from five big nonprofit organizations. However, if KCS acquires city-funded business through a subcontract from other associations, it can fund those programs immediately, but it may not receive credit for the work it did. In other words, in many cases, large organizations which get funding from the city and subcontract much of their work to small organizations, report the benefits of the subcontract as if they had done the work.

Lee said: “It is not easy for KCS to receive a government grant, not to mention other small nonprofit organizations.” She added: “Even for a small contract, there is a fair amount of red tape which makes it complicated just to sign up for the government funding.” For this reason, KCS is planning to start a program to help nonprofit organizations which are suffering from financial difficulties to get information about government grants.

More and More Chinese and Latino participants

Lee has recently noticed increasing participation by non-Koreans in KCS’ programs. She said: “Many non-Korean residents began to ask if KCS provides services only to Koreans. As the organization grows, it is natural to expand services to people from other nations.”

In particular, Chinese and Latino seniors have actively participated in many programs at KCS senior centers. The Bayside center is also providing assistance for health insurance (…) to other ethnicities. Additionally, KCS is participating in block parties in Bayside, strengthening its presence as a Korean organization.

However, expanding services to non-Koreans does not necessarily mean an end to the expansion of services needed by the Korean immigrant community.

“For the residents whose incomes are not low enough or who are not yet classified as seniors, government benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid are not available. To help them, KCS will launch a new department and expand the beneficiaries of its program within this year,” said Lee.

KCS has also started staff training to expand translation services. When it comes to medical interpretation, systematic training is essential because expertise in medical terminology is required. Also, elderly parents who live separately from their children need a lot of help, such as visiting hospitals and securing health insurance.

The need for an accurate 2020 Census

Welfare for the elderly is one of Lee’s priorities. Lee said that housing issues of the elderly could have a great impact on the Korean community, directly related to the household economy and senior health. (…)

The key thing will be the upcoming 2020 Census and how accurate it will be. Lee said: “Although 25 percent of the elderly in New York City belong to the poorest, I doubt if this census will reveal what they need exactly.” She added: “Among the Asian elderly, four to five seniors often live together in a studio apartment (…) but they all are regarded literally as ‘having a place to live,’ making it difficult to receive government benefits.”

She hopes that KCS becomes a local community center where anyone can visit comfortably and have fun. She said: “I understand that some are concerned that KCS, which is led by a second-generation Korean American, would lay aside senior issues, reducing the influence of first-generation Korean Americans. However, I will continue to expand programs to help Korean seniors.”

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