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YMCA launches Korean women's group

Goal is a forum in which women can build a community and explore resources.

September 15, 2010|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

In a fluid stream of Korean and English, the stories came pouring out — stories about navigating the nuances of the American educational system, struggling to be understood through thick accents and bridging cultural gaps with their American-born children.

The discussion signaled a running start for the Korean-American Women's Association (KAWA), which attracted a dozen women and a handful of children to its inaugural meeting at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA on Tuesday. The group, which will meet on a weekly basis, is designed to allow Korean women a forum in which they can share anecdotes, build community and explore resources.

"I want them to be fully participating citizens of America where they can understand what is going on politically, socially, economically and be able to enjoy their life here as much as they can," said founder Chris Park.

As the Korean population in La Cañada and La Crescenta continues to grow, so does the Korean membership at the YMCA, said Kim Beattie, the local Y's director of communications. But while local Korean residents signed up for the swim team and youth leadership activities, there remained a disconnect between YMCA organizational leadership and the Korean community, she said.

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"A lot of the families participate in the swimming program and the camping programs, the health and wellness aspects at the YMCA, but when it came to volunteer activities, we couldn't bring them into the fold," Beattie said.

Park understands well the language and cultural barriers that can sometimes make it difficult to unite mainstream American and Korean communities. She moved from South Korea to Southern California in her early 20s. But despite a Western-style education and fluent English, she found suburban life isolated her from would-be neighbors and friends. It was difficult, the Montrose resident and information technology professional said, to connect with others outside of work.

In 1988, Park joined and began frequenting the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA. She found she believed strongly in the organization's mission. She also became heavily involved in her daughters' Girl Scout troop, and in the youth programs at her church.

All around her, Park said, were Korean women grappling with linguistic, cultural and technological barriers.

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