Conversation with …. Ho Su Kim

Volunteerism keeps immigrants retirement years full

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From almost the first day he moved to the United States two decades ago, Ho Su Kim has made life better for his fellow immigrants. In April, the Georgia Healthcare Foundation honored Kim for his work with the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, an Atlanta nonprofit that offers health and social services for immigrants and refugees. Kim, a native of Pyeongtaek City, South Korea, helped start a food pantry at the center where he continues to volunteer full-time, often beginning his day at 5 a.m. and calling it quits at 5 p.m. His mark extends far beyond getting fresh fruits, vegetables and other goods from big box stores and the Atlanta Community Food Bank and distributing them to low-income families, many of them senior citizens like Kim, now 80 years old. Without Kim's outreach and the trust he instills, the center would not be able to attract Atlanta's growing community of older Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Burmese, and increasingly, Hispanic immigrants, said Nausheen Punjani, the center's programs managers. Through an interpreter, the AJC chatted with Kim about what drives his volunteerism, which he shares with his wife, Won Son Kim. To watch Georgia Healthcare Foundation's interview with Kim, see this YouTube video. .

Q: What brought you to the U.S.? Was it hard to change your whole life at 60 years old?

A: I came here because my son came to study in the U.S., got married and had children. I came here to see my grandson and decided to stay. Through my job — I worked in a factory making oil filters that go in cars — I learned some English. It was okay.

Q: How did you recognize the need for a food pantry?

A: I went to CPACS to find out about senior housing. When I went to live at my apartment, there were many seniors who could not drive to go grocery shopping. I thought it would be nice if the seniors came here to CPACS to get vegetables and fruits.

Q: Can you describe your typical day?

A: Every day is pretty much the same. I come to CPACS and set things up nice so they are in order. I go to Costco to get fresh fruits and vegetables. When the Atlanta Community Food Bank calls, I go there and get some more stuff. Every Tuesday, we have a senior wellness program for Koreans. My schedule is very packed.

Q: It doesn’t sound like you are retired at all.

A: If I made a living out of this, I could have a quit a long time ago. I get so much satisfaction serving others. As a Christian, it is a big thing for me to help out others. I also serve in memory of my mother. When I came to the United States, I promised her that I would come back and see her. But she died before I could go back.

Q: What do you like most about being a full-time volunteer?

A: When the seniors get their food, they make a happy face. That is what I most enjoy.

Q: So do you practice what you preach when it come to wellness?

A: My life makes me feel good and healthy. I make speeches regularly. I talk about how I quit smoking and the benefits. There are a lot of young people who listen. I donate the money I’ve saved from not smoking to the people who need it. On my day off, I stay home and watch TV. That doesn’t make me feel good. I would rather be volunteering here at CPACS.

Q: Are there any challenges with getting older people to reach out for services?

A: The seniors in the wellness program love it so much that they don’t know how they are going to wait to next week. They spread the word. Everybody comes.

Q: You are 80. Aren’t you tired?

A: If I were by myself, I would be very tired. I have my wife with me all the time. She makes me feel like I am not alone and supports me and makes me keep going. My religious belief also keeps me going.