By Rebecca Henely
Kwanghee Kim, founder of the Flushing-based nonprofit the Korean American Family Service Center, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award last week by the New York Women’s Foundation. But while she is dedicated to her work, she was not so happy with the name of the award.
“I don’t think I’m that old yet,” Kim, 67, said. “I have a lot of work to do.”
Kim, a Korean immigrant who lives in Manhattan, founded her organization, which helps underprivileged women, children and teenagers, in 1989. She was honored by the foundation at its annual dinner Oct. 25 at Long Island City’s Riverview Restaurant and Lounge at 201 50th Ave.
Kim has a long history with the foundation. Not only did her center receive its first public grant from the group, but she now helps the organization choose nonprofits to give grants to every year.
“They are my sisters,” Kim said of the foundation. “We learn from each other.”
Kim has a full-time day job working as a chemist at Weill Cornell Medical College, but her nonprofit work came out of teaching Sunday school at her church, where she would see the children of single mothers and the struggles the women faced.
“I had in my mind I would do something for them,” she said.
Kim took the initiative to do it after her mentor, Dr. Tae Yong Lee, the first female attorney in Korea, encouraged her in 1989, saying she wanted the aid center she had set up for underprivileged women in Korea to expand.
But after Kim received the help of friends, her center would take a different approach. It started small, with a Christmas party every year at the church for single mothers.
“Some people accused me of being a family breaker, promoting single mothers” Kim said. “But the heck with it.”
The organization expanded from there. At first Kim worked out of Manhattan, but she opened a Flushing office in 1996 near Main Street and later moved all of the center’s operations there. Now the center offers domestic violence counseling, children’s programs, teen programs and a scholarship program for struggling mothers.
The center also provides volunteer training in both English and Korean, and Kim’s program has been used by other nonprofits. This training session includes basic information on domestic violence, family law, counseling protocol and resources where volunteers can direct those in need. Kim said she requires perfect attendance from those who take the course but ends the training with a fun day in Central Park.
“I’m trying to mobilize as many, many people as possible to get involved in this and enjoy themselves,” Kim said.
Kim’s organization can be found at kafsc.org.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.