Care Line helps bridge culture gap for Korean immigrants in Howard

Volunteers provide link to professional services

December 09, 2003|By Caitlin O'Grady | Caitlin O'Grady,SUN STAFF

Recognizing that language and culture can be intimidating barriers to getting help in a crisis, a Howard County Korean community group has launched Care Line to refer callers to the appropriate professionals.

Sue Song, president of the Korean American Community Association of Howard County, said Care Line "can be helpful for when someone is in a crisis and needs to talk to someone with their problems or concerns." Care Line phone calls will be screened and callers will be sent to professionals, such as lawyers, health care workers, doctors or psychologists. If possible, callers will be a referred to Korean professionals.

"The first goal of the Care Line is to provide information and referral services Koreans could not obtain because of language and culture barriers," said operations coordinator Silvia Kim. "The second goal is to provide crisis intervention for Koreans who could not easily obtain help."

Care Line provides assistance in education, health care, interpretation and translation, senior issues and job referral. It is staffed by volunteers who have a minimum of 20 hours of training in screening phone calls. Bilingual volunteers are available to help callers who need help with interpretation. Volunteers answer phones at 410-461-1088 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"We need a lot of people to be involved. We have limited human resources at the moment," said Kim. She said second-generation Koreans are encouraged to volunteer.

Song thought it would be a good idea to create Care Line because "oftentimes the Korean population doesn't have the information as to what the county government does or how retirement works. They have no understanding of how the system works."

Song said many Koreans are afraid to ask questions because of cultural barriers and therefore don't have anyone to share their concerns. "Koreans cannot really talk to anyone outside of their profession because it isn't seen as proper manner. They want to take care of the situation in their family, and they fail," said Song.

Previously, those seeking help have contacted the Korean American Community Association. The greatest number of requests concern senior issues, according to Song. In addressing those issues, Care Line volunteers provide housing information, help seniors find transportation and share information about senior center activities. Song said help with health care is needed because many Koreans "don't know where to go and what to do without insurance."

Many people believe Care Line should have been created a long time ago to ease the adjustment of Koreans to American society. Because Howard County is the only local jurisdiction to have Care Line, Song said, she expects calls to come from outside the county.

Care Line staff will talk to the Board of Education, school psychologists and teachers if there are educational issues. In addition, the volunteers will refer callers seeking jobs to potential employers, specifically with Korean businesses or with the county government.

Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church held a concert Oct. 5 to kick off the Care Line fund-raising campaign. About 800 people attended. Jay You, director of operations, said $38,000 in donations was collected from members of the Korean community. Funding is also being provided by the Horizon Foundation.

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