Q&A with June Lee, Executive Director
Q: What is the problem or need in the community that KCCEB is addressing with the KACF-SF grant this year?
A: In spite of unusually high levels of serious psychological distress (SPD) experienced by Koreans (Korean Needs Assessment of the Bay Area, 2014-15), the Korean community is largely unaware of how stress affects their daily quality of life and how seeking outside support could help. Complex barriers to recognizing mental health issues include stigma and misunderstandings, including attitudes such as: “an individual with a mental health issue is crazy” or, “I should be able to control my own emotional state.” The issue is most serious among Korean seniors, who have 4.5 times the rate of SPD than the California state average, and significantly lower rates of seeking help for self-reported SPD than African American, Hispanic and White counterparts. The study found 19% of Bay Area Korean seniors have SPD, compared to 13% of all Korean adults.
With support from KACF-SF, KCCEB has been piloting the “K-Stories, Our Stories” Project with the goal of creating a conducive environment to normalize mental health issues by decreasing perceived barriers and increasing perceived benefits among isolated Korean seniors with under-recognized mental health issues.
Q: What are some program achievements so far and the most important outcome you hope to achieve moving forward.
A: We have completed the pilot phase of the program with great outcomes that have exceeded our expectations and hopes. The program uses Korean drama as a tool for participants to openly talk about the issues and characters portrayed. We chose “Dear My Friends,” which deals with such topics as aging, dying, suicide, friendship, sickness, loneliness, abandonment, resilience, and acceptance. We also used a “popular education” approach which is based on a principle of empowering learners to become active and engaged citizens in improving their own lives and their communities. The curriculum we developed incorporated many culturally familiar practices that allowed the Korean seniors to grapple with mental health concepts for the first time.
The first cohort of 16 Korean seniors finished the 15-week program with, among other things, increased self-confidence and comfort in sharing mental health issues openly, and reduced stigma towards mental health issues and topics. Having learned foundational knowledge about community mental health (trust building, self-care, stress and coping, myths and facts, etc.), the participants now want to help spread this knowledge to other more isolated seniors in their community and offer support. They formed a “Jikimee-Community Protector” group as their commitment to this work. Given the excitement and enthusiasm from this group and the significant need for mental health support among Korean seniors, we hope to cultivate these new senior leaders to support their community, eventually creating a network of community mental health advocates engaged in open conversation in every corner of the Korean community.
Q: Are there any important lessons you and your team have learned working on this program?
A: The mission of KCCEB is to empower the Korean and other immigrant communities of the San Francisco Bay Area through education, advocacy, direct services, and the development of community-based resources. As implied in our mission, simply providing services is insufficient to empower the Korean community. While services offer a great entry point to our agency for our clients, we cannot achieve our ultimate mission of empowerment by simply providing services. Through the “K Stories, Our Stories” project, we witnessed the great potential that community members intrinsically have to empower themselves, with some help and support. However, achieving and measuring empowerment is a long-term process that requires a critical shift in frame of reference that we will need to work on together as a community.
Q: KCCEB recently launched the toll-free Bay Area Korean InfoLine (BAKI) with a grant from KACF-SF. What results have you seen so far, and what difference do you think this pilot project is making in meeting the needs of the Korean community?
A: BAKI was launched in May, 2017 to meet increasing demands for diverse social, immigration and health-related information and services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, in light of high levels of limited English-proficiency within the Bay Area’s Korean community. Between May 8 and August 30, BAKI handled 2,623 calls, with a steady increase in call volume. Calls are coming from all 9 counties of the Bay Area and beyond, including from outside California, indicating that BAKI is filling a gap in linguistically and culturally tailored information and resources in many places.
In addition being a regional hub for Korean-language resources, BAKI is becoming a foundation for advocacy for adequate resource development for the Korean American community. Using a call center technology linked to a database, BAKI is able to capture and represent real-time community needs. Using this data, KCCEB plans to continue our advocacy with local governments about the evolving needs of the Korean community in the Bay Area. Such data can be also shared across organizations to inform new and improved services and programs.
Q: Have you seen any changes in the needs and concerns of the community over the past 9 months? If so, how has KCCEB sought to respond?
A: Following the recent U.S. Presidential executive orders threatening immigrant communities, KCCEB experienced a 52% increase in phone inquiries regarding immigration, access to public benefits, and heightened report of hate crimes. To respond to the overwhelming concerns raised in the community, we held a press conference with the Korean American Bar Association of Northern California, covering a range of topics including deportation, sanctuary cities, non-citizen immigrant rights, etc. We also created and distributed a Korean-language fact sheet. We have held five “Know Your Rights” (KYR) workshops – some in collaboration with other agencies – that were attended by a total of 480 people.
While 29% of Bay Area Koreans are making ends meet through public benefits, low-income Koreans are too often invisible in conversations about racial and economic equity. As a result, low-income immigrant Koreans’ concerns are not properly identified or adequately addressed, especially in navigating an anti-immigrant political environment. KCCEB plans to hold at a series of listening sessions with community members and service providers. We will use the results to develop materials for distribution and advocacy, aimed at increasing the political visibility of the low-income Korean community, and inform a long-term strategic plan to address and advocate for the community’s needs. By allowing community members to take a leadership role in the process, we want to facilitate their contributing to increased equity and shaping their own future.
Q: KCCEB offers a wide range of important programs and services with limited staff. What are KCCEB’s priority areas of focus and growth over the next five years?
A: Based on the 2014-15 Korean Community Needs Assessment we conducted in partnership with UC Berkeley School of Public Health, we identified 7 priority issues that the most vulnerable Koreans face in the Bay Area. These issue areas, which will continue to guide our work over the next five years, are: 1) high rates of Limited English Proficiency, an overarching issue that affects social isolation and health outcomes; 2) high levels of SPD and low mental health service utilization; 3) direct and secondhand smoke exposure and rising e-cigarette prevalence among female youth; 4) delayed citizenship and low civic engagement; 5) intimate partner violence (IPV); 6) cardiovascular risk factors and healthy lifestyles; and 7) health care disparities among women. We have already begun some significant work in mental health stigma reduction and tobacco intervention this year. We will also work to fully realize our mission of empowering our community by continuously evaluating and modifying our program approach to integrate education, advocacy and community resource development into our services.