KACF-Helping the Community Help Itself

Conceived as a way to transform the way the Korean-American community cares for its own, the Korean American Community Foundation’s (KACF) mission is to help promote self-sufficiency for the underserved and under-resourced in the Korean-American community. Founded in 2002, the KACF has in the past 16 years helped facilitate over $6 million in grant giving to nonprofits helping the impoverished in the NY area, and spent over 3,000 hours helping these nonprofits become more efficient and effective. We spoke with Kyung B. Yoon, a co-founder and current President of the KACF, about their mission and what you can do to help your community.

Interview Jeremy Slavin, English Editor, 한글, 맘앤아이 편집부

There are approximately 240,000 Korean Americans in the Greater New York area  (including New York City, Long Island, and northern New Jersey), and according to the Korean American Community Foundation (KACF),18% of these Korean Americans live in poverty, 16% of working-age Koreans in New York are unemployed, and 94% of Korean seniors in the U.S. have limited English proficiency.

 

Founded in 2002, KACF is concerned with helping build the economic self-sufficiency of low-income, underserved Korean Americans in the New York Metro Area. KACF extends grants to direct service programs and organizations working with and helping Korean Americans in a variety of areas, such as educational improvement, legal services, and employment attainment.

 

I spoke with Kyung B. Yoon, one of the original co-founders of the Korean American Community Foundation (and its current President) about the KACF, her motivations and concerns, and the importance of building a culture of philanthropy in the Korean American community.

What is the KCAF?

 

The Korean American Community Foundation is different from other nonprofits that provide direct services – for example, ones that feed the hungry or house the homeless. We do not provide those services ourselves; we are a funder of nonprofits. There’s so many levels of challenges to those nonprofits’ work; they have to provide programs, and high quality services. But often, the main challenge is finding and securing funding on a regular basis, so that they can operate in a sustainable way. In New York, Asian American nonprofits receive less than 2% of public funding, and for Korean nonprofits, the share is even less. This is the the gap that KACF seeks to fill. And the other part of our mission really has been around growing a culture of giving in the Korean American community, and to promote philanthropy.

 

What led you to get involved in and help found the Korean American community foundation?

 

I came to America when I was six years old, and I remember growing up very much feeling on the margins of America. I was grateful to be here, but there were people making fun of my name because it was foreign sounding, and there was the sense of being discriminated against, feeling very disempowered. We saw that there was a need really to organize our community, to have a stronger voice and to be able to control the narrative of the contribution of our immigrants.

 

I was the first Korean American television reporter in New York, and I covered a lot of stories. I also engaged in volunteer work; I was the chair of the board of the New York Asian Women’s Center that helped battered women and children in New York’s Asian community. I was on the board for close to 10 years, I worked very closely with the executive director and staff, and I saw exactly what I told you at the beginning: many going into nonprofit work end up having to deal with spending most of their time trying to find raise funds. That’s why I was really pleased and honored to be a part of a small group of Korean Americans that came together in the fall of 2002 with the idea of leveraging our content, our own funds, our friends, our family, our colleagues, so that we could raise more.

What challenges do you and the KACF face in carrying out your mission?

 

Every year we’re successful in raising unprecedented amounts of money for the Korean American community. And yet, we have to beat that every year; what we raise, we give out. Other foundations that have a longer history in America have massive endowments, because there are people who have given money so that they can be more sustainable. They use just a part of it every year to give out a grant. We don’t have that kind of safety, and that is something we have to strategically think about over the long term.

 

What are you most proud of when it comes to the KACF and the work you’ve done?

 

I think what we’re most proud of is that what we look towards is building something for the future of Korean Americans in this country; that through our foundation, we’re not just about investing in individual success, we’re actually building a stronger infrastructure so that it can be about community success. I heard a wonderful quote that was talking about success in life it’s really that when we climb we lift and I think up to now, you know, Korean Americans were really good at climbing, you know we’re really good at climbing to the best school or climbing to the best job. But we haven’t really been that focused around how we can actually lift as we climb. And I think that is really at the heart of the work that we’re doing at KACF.

 

Do you think it was more challenging to be an Asian in America when you were younger? Or is it more challenging now?

 

I think in many ways, it’s easier now in the sense that when I was growing up in America, Korea was very poor; there was nothing that I could feel that proud of about being Korean. But, today, I think with the globalization of Hallyu, the popularity of K-Pop and Korean dramas, and how everyone has a Samsung phone…there’s so

many things that are coming out of Korea that you can draw from as a point of pride. I do think that for the children today, it’s much cooler to be Korean than when I was growing up.

What challenges do you and the KACF face in carrying out your mission?

 

Every year we’re successful in raising unprecedented amounts of money for the Korean American community. And yet, we have to beat that every year; what we raise, we give out. Other foundations that have a longer history in America have massive endowments, because there are people who have given money so that they can be more sustainable. They use just a part of it every year to give out a grant. We don’t have that kind of safety, and that is something we have to strategically think about over the long term.

 

What are you most proud of when it comes to the KACF and the work you’ve done?

 

I think what we’re most proud of is that what we look towards is building something for the future of Korean Americans in this country; that through our foundation, we’re not just about investing in individual success, we’re actually building a stronger infrastructure so that it can be about community success. I heard a wonderful quote that was talking about success in life it’s really that when we climb we lift and I think up to now, you know, Korean Americans were really good at climbing, you know we’re really good at climbing to the best school or climbing to the best job. But we haven’t really been that focused around how we can actually lift as we climb. And I think that is really at the heart of the work that we’re doing at KACF.

 

Do you think it was more challenging to be an Asian in America when you were younger? Or is it more challenging now?

 

I think in many ways, it’s easier now in the sense that when I was growing up in America, Korea was very poor; there was nothing that I could feel that proud of about being Korean. But, today, I think with the globalization of Hallyu, the popularity of K-Pop and Korean dramas, and how everyone has a Samsung phone…there’s so

many things that are coming out of Korea that you can draw from as a point of pride. I do think that for the children today, it’s much cooler to be Korean than when I was growing up.

한인커뮤니티재단’

(The Korean American Community Foundation, KACF)

우리는 비영리 단체들을 돕는 비영리 단체입니다.”

뉴욕시, 롱 아일랜드 및 뉴저지 북부를 포함하여 뉴욕 지역에는 약 240,000 명의 한인이 거주하는 것으로 추산되는데 이 한인사회에는 크고 작은 다목적 비영리 단체가 170여개에 달한다. 그러나 미 정부 또는 주류사회로부터 재정 지원을 받고 있는 단체는 10%에도 미치지못하는 수준이다. 대다수 한인단체들은 한인사회를 위해 열심히 봉사는 하면서도 비영리 단체의 기본인 단체 등록을 하지 않은 경우가 많고, 또 활동목적이나 재정기록 등이 심사기준에 미치지 못하고 있는 경우가 대부분이며,  또 그럴듯한 이름은 달고 있지만 별다른 활동을 하지 않고 있는 명목상 단체들도 적지않다. 이러한 한인사회, 봉사단체들의 재정적, 행정적 지원의 필요성을 느낀 한인 1세들과 2세들이 함께 뜻을 모아 출범시킨 ‘한인커뮤니티재단’(The Korean American Community Foundation, KACF)이 올해로 16년째를 맞이했으며, 여러 가지로 열악한 ‘비영리 단체를 돕겠다’는 그들의 초심을 오늘까지 잘 이어가고 있다.   6살 때 미국으로 이민 온 KACF 공동 창립자이자 윤경복 사무총장, 그녀는 어린 시절 미국이라는 나라의 무한한 가능성과 넉넉한 여유로움에 감사함을 느낄 때가 많았다. 그러나 시간이 지날 수록 마이너리티의 부당함을 자주 경험해야했고, 그런 불합리한 경험과 불편한 감정들은 한인 공동체를 좀 더 조직적으로 운영함으로서 한인들의 자존감을 높히고 미국내 구성원으로 당당한 목소리를 내며, 이 나라에 공헌할 수 있는 방법을 모색하는 필요를 깨닫게 해주었다. 그는 뉴욕 최초의 한인 TV 기자로 일하면서 사회와 현실을 제대로 인식하고 냉정하게 분석하며 자신의 선한뜻을 펼치기 위해 여러 기관에서 자원봉사를 해왔다. 뉴욕 아시아 여성 센터 (New York Asian Women ‘s Center)의 이사장으로 재직하는 동안 뉴욕의 아시아 지역사회에서 폭행을 당한 여성과 어린이들을 도왔다. 그리고 약 10 년 간 이사회에 속해있으면서 재단운영에 깊이 관련했던 그간의 실질적인 경험들을 바탕으로 KACF를 설립하고 현재까지 이끌어왔다. 

2002년 설립당시 조원일 뉴욕총영사의  ‘1인 1달러 캠페인’ (기부 문화가 활발하지 않은 한인사회에서 하루에 1달러를 모아 재정이 부족한 한인단체들을 지원하자는 캠페인)과 함께 시작된 KACF는 현재 연례만찬 자리에서만 백만불씩 기금을 마련하는 단체로 성장하였으며, 그동안 뉴욕지역에서 활동해온 여러 비영리 단체에 6 백만 달러 이상의 교부금을 제공하며 경제적 도움을 준 것은 물론, 3,000 시간 이상을 사용하여 비영리 단체들이 더 효율적이고 효과적으로 운영되도록 힘을 실어주는 등 한인사회의 모든 비영리 단체의 주춧돌과 같은 역할을 잘 감당하고 있다. 특히 KACF는 대부분 성공한 한인 1.5-2세들이 주축이 된 젊은 자선 단체라는 점에서 무한한 잠재력과 가능성을 엿볼 수 있는데, 몇해 전 뉴욕타임스는 “명문대를 졸업하고 미 주류 구석구석에서 활동하는 한인 1.5-2세들이 이제 자선사업을 주도하고 있다”며  KACF를 대서특필하고 소개한 적이 있을 정도로 미국 내에서도 큰 영향력을 가진 자선단체가 되었다. KACF연례만찬자리에 세계은행 총재 김용씨, 마이클 불룸버그 전 뉴욕시장, 또 반기문 전 유엔사무총장 그리고 콜린 파월 전 국무장관 까지 기조연설자로 참여해 그들의 업적을 치하하고 격려하는 것을 보면 KACF의 영향력이 얼마나 파워풀한지, 그들의 건강한 존재력은 충분히 짐작할 수 있다.   

윤경복 사무총장은 2006년 뉴욕 아시안여성센터가 주는 피닉스 어워드 (Phoenix Awards)와 뉴욕시가 주는 특별공로상을 수상했고, 2009년에는 뉴욕한인회가 주는 ‘올해의 한인상’, 또 아시아아메리칸 아동가족연합회가 주는 ‘케어링 포 칠드런 어워드’ (Caring For Children Foundation Awards)상 그리고 2013년 한미경제연구소가 주는 ‘자랑스런 한인상’도 수상했다. 그녀는 한인사회의 비영리 단체들과 미 주류사회의 소외된 계층을 돌보고 도움으로써 한인사회 뿐만 아니라 미 주류사회까지도 함께 더 나은 사회로 상생해 가기를 바라며, 특별히 미국이라는 나라가 한인들로 인해 더욱 발전할 수 있었다는 평가를 얻게되기를 기대하며 자신의 소명에 늘 최선을 다하고 있다.

 

한인커뮤니티재단  KACF (사무총장: 윤경복)
Korean American Community Foundation

135 E. 64th St. New York, NY 10065

Tel. 646-878-9427

e-mail: info@kacfny.org

Homepage: www.kacfny.org

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창간 20주년을 맞이한 북동부 최대의 한인 라이프스타일 매거진
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