Q&A with Eunice Chun, Executive Director
1. What do you see as the most important challenges or issues facing the Korean American community in Santa Clara County?
In general, the Korean American (KA) community in Santa Clara County tends to be isolated from the mainstream population and, even within the community itself, if you don’t go to a Korean church or belong to other social groups, many don’t feel connected to each other. The problem is especially severe among Korean seniors, who tend not to engage in the broader community due to cultural differences and limited English skills. The language barriers result in many seniors not receiving information needed to get services and limiting their access to community resources. Another challenge is the strong stigma felt by older Koreans around health-related (including mental health) problems and financial and other family issues. The stigma and feelings of shame prevent them from sharing their problems and asking for help. Even well-planned services are ineffective if the at-risk population is not willing to seek services. Without aggressive, targeted outreach to this population, they end up largely home-bound.
2. What do you think makes KACS unique as an organization serving the Korean American community?
KACS has been serving the KA community in Santa Clara Co. since 1979. With our small but highly dedicated bilingual and bi-cultural staff, we provide a comprehensive range of culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and services — social services, case management, senior nutrition program, senior wellness programs, conversational English and Citizenship English classes, monthly health screening and acupuncture services, low-impact exercise classes, transportation services, and more. KACS also provides translation and interpretation services, cultural events, and other supportive services to enhance the overall quality of life for Korean Americans.
KACS is very fortunate to have a large number of volunteers who believe in our mission; more than 100 volunteers contribute annually to our work. KACS believes that engaging a wide range of volunteers – medical professionals, older adults, and younger generations – is important to delivering quality services effectively and efficiently to the target population.
Because of our longstanding service to the community, KACS is also fortunate to have built up trust among our members and the KA community in general. Trust is critical to our work, especially for successful delivery of services, because confidentiality is often a major concern among our clients. KACS has built an excellent reputation and is considered a credible social service agency in Santa Clara Co. Most of our clients become a KACS member after receiving services, believing in the mission of KACS. We now have more than 500 active members!
3. Have you noticed any significant changes in the needs and concerns of your members or the Korean American community since the beginning of the new administration in Washington? If so, how has KACS been addressing the changing needs?
One of the significant changes we have seen in the community we serve since the new administration is the increase in concerns related to the status of immigrants. Many green card holders are afraid of deportation or other discriminative actions against them, so the volume of inquiries related to citizenship assistance has been steadily increasing. To address these concerns, KACS has been providing citizenship application preparation kits that include Q&A, CD, and other materials as well as counseling. KACS also continues to provide a longstanding Citizenship English class to help people prepare for the naturalization exam and interview.
4. What are the most impactful programs KACS offers and why?
While KACS offers a wide range of programs to address our community’s cultural and social needs, one of the most impactful programs we offer is our social services and case management. We changed our system from appointment-based to walk-in for counseling services to maximize community members’ access to information about essential public benefits and community resources. These include health care benefits for low-income seniors and families, especially to underserved Korean seniors who suffer from language barriers and lack of information about available resources. KACS also provides services over the phone, with knowledgeable and experienced staff answering clients’ questions and helping resolve issues.
5. How has funding from KACF-SF made a difference in the work of KACS?
Grants from KACF-SF have helped our organization develop new programs and services that could not have been possible without the extra funding and support. For example, we have been able to offer an annual Alzheimer’s Forum, providing important information in Korean to our community. We were also able to start a monthly Korean-language caregiver support program, the first such Korean support group in the Bay Area. These new programs assist vulnerable Korea Americans while strengthening KACS’s role as a hub for vital services and information resources for Korean Americans in Santa Clara County.
Funding as well as overall guidance and support from KACF-SF has also helped KACS in fulfilling our mission to promote self-sufficiency and empower our community and in increasing our organization’s sustainability and ability to leverage philanthropic dollars.
6. What do you hope to achieve this year with the grant from KACF-SF?
With capacity-building funding from KACF-SF, KACS is working on organizational development goals including strategic planning, leadership development, and enhancing current programs for seniors. KACS will also focus on assessment to identify ways to strengthen our approaches in order to maximize the positive impact we have on the Korean American community. We hope to serve the neediest more effectively and efficiently and thereby improve the overall quality of life of Korean Americans in Santa Clara County.