Through numerous events with high turnout, a new RISE AmeriCorps host site is connecting with communities and sharing Korean culture across Iowa.
Founded in 1978, Korean-American Society of Iowa (KASI) is the oldest non-profit organization of its kind in Iowa to represent Koreans, Korean-Americans and Korean adoptees. Over the last year, the organization has renewed its purpose to bridge Koreans, share culture with the wider community and connect information and resources.
“KASI will now really focus on not only gathering and engaging with each other, but we will focus a lot on how we collaborate and work with other communities in the state of Iowa,” KASI President Erin Kim-Cho said.
In 2022, KASI expanded its scope with a series of partnerships and events, including a K-pop festival at the University of Iowa, a Korean food truck event in Ames and an AAPI Heritage Month event at Iowa State University. At the annual CelebrAsian festival in Des Moines, KASI and the Korean tent display also earned the award for best overall village. The Korean organization educated audiences with traditional music performances, K-pop dance performance, a Korean food demonstration and fashion show.
One event in particular showcased successful leadership by a RISE AmeriCorps Member. In late April, RISE AmeriCorps Member Jiyoun Yoo noticed an opportunity to share Korean culture and food by collaborating with Memorial Lutheran Church in Ames.
The church offers a range of services for the international community near Iowa State University, including a monthly dinner known as Friday International Student Hospitality (FISH). Each month, a different community cooks their culture’s dishes at a gathering of both international students and Americans.
“Maybe they’re connecting with people from their own country that they’ve never met. Maybe they meet a family from another country, but they become really good friends,” Judy Newhouse with Memorial Lutheran Church said. “It’s just a way to broaden everyone’s social life.”
Yoo jumped on the opportunity for KASI. She soon began organizing to serve bibimbap, a Korean rice dish mixed with vegetables and a choice of marinated meat or tofu. In all, over 180 people joined to enjoy Korean cuisine and build relationships with people from around the world. Yoo said that she and her Korean friends had a great time and enjoyed gathering and helping at the event.
“I didn’t expect that so many people would come. it was pretty successful,” Yoo said. “I’m so glad everyone enjoyed Korean food.”
In addition to recruiting volunteers to cook for over 180 people, Yoo coordinated the group and assisted logistics to help the event run smoothly. Newhouse said Yoo’s planning was stellar and resulted in a successful event.
“I had never seen a group so organized,” Newhouse said. “It was so surprising, mind blowing. They knew everything that was needed.”
With support from EMBARC and the Refugee and Immigrant Vaccine Alliance (RIVA), KASI also took advantage of the audience at the FISH dinner to disseminate information and resources related to COVID-19 safety and the vaccine.
Outside of events, RISE AmeriCorps Members with KASI carry on their organization’s mission of connecting community members in need to resources. Yoo said she is currently helping two Korean families with the logistics of settling in Iowa, including housing and language support.
In the future, KASI is looking forward to hosting more culturally-specific events, such as Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving in September. They will also be working closely with the consulate general of the Republic of Korea in Chicago to serve as a messenger for Koreans, Korean-Americans and Korean adoptees in Iowa.
To support bilingual Korean and English speaking youth, KASI is also hosting a summer book club. The group meets at the Ankeny Public Library to enhance language and literacy learning. A separate workshop for immigrant parents this summer is designed to guide parents to support their young readers.
Kim-Cho said the non-profit organization is also excited to begin training opportunities to create leaders within the Korean community. KASI will be training its board members and youth to emerge as leaders through local resources, such as a session on the basics of serving as a board member by the Greater Community of Des Moines Foundation.
“There’s a huge need in terms of building leaders within our community,” Kim-Cho said.