KOREATOWN : Korean Youth and Community Center Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Since its beginning as an outreach project for troubled Korean American teen-agers in February, 1974, the Korean Youth and Community Center has undergone as many changes as the culturally diverse neighborhood it serves.

The center, which is preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary Friday, is now the largest Korean American social service organization in the country. It provides a variety of services, including counseling and entrepreneurial training, to Koreans and non-Koreans throughout the central city.

"It's a natural evolution of serving the community," said Sharon Im of the center's Alliance for Neighborhood Economic Development, which was created as a result of the 1992 riots. "We've wanted to be as comprehensive as possible."

The organization began as the Korean Youth Center and was formed as an outreach project of the Asian American Drug Abuse Program.

"They targeted junior high and high school problem kids, youths who had drug problems or who were truants," said Grace Kim, the center's director of new development. "But soon this spread out to counseling families."

A county grant in 1979 enabled the center to begin crime prevention, employment and educational programs, all aimed at lowering the many hurdles faced by immigrant families.

"Children's problems aren't isolated from those of the rest of the family, especially when it comes to immigrant children," Im said. "There are lots of social and economic factors involved."

In 1982, the center incorporated as a nonprofit agency. Through public and private funding, counseling and mental health programs for youths and adults were expanded over the next decade.

In 1989, the center began a job skills and entrepreneur training program for inner-city youths.

By 1992, it was shifting toward programs encouraging economic growth among minorities. The riots in the spring that year spurred the center to begin a more aggressive economic development strategy.

"We had been moving toward economic development programs before the riots, but the riots accelerated that," Im said.

With the addition of the Alliance for Neighborhood Economic Development unit in the wake of the riots, the center began providing business counseling and assistance to riot victims, particularly to liquor store owners trying to rebuild as nonalcoholic enterprises. Later that year, the center's board of directors voted to add the word community to the name, in recognition of its expanding goals.

The Korean Youth and Community Center has begun its third decade in a new building at 680 Wilton Place, combining ground-floor offices with several upstairs units of low-income housing.

Goals include becoming more multiethnic, as well as making a push to better acquaint the Korean American community with the center's evolving face. "We want to educate our community as to our new programs," Im said. "The Korean community is still new to this."

Friday's 20th anniversary celebration will be at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Grande Hotel, 333 S. Figueroa St. Funds raised at the $100-per-plate celebration dinner will be used to cover the center's operating expenses.

Information and dinner reservations: (213) 365-7400.

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