She pulls people together

Woman's efforts at work and beyond encourage diversity

August 15, 2007|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,Special to the Sun

The tiny waiting room at AllCare of Maryland boasts some unusual touches for a walk-in medical clinic. There is the child-friendly corner, handouts in three languages -- English, Korean and Spanish -- and a wall decorated with funky silver beads.

The Columbia clinic might not be typical, but neither is AllCare's president, Margaret Kim. She has put her stamp on not only this small health center but also all of Howard County. Before moving to Fulton from Carroll County six months ago, Kim had established herself as a community leader in Howard.

She serves on the Howard County General Hospital Foundation board of trustees. She is vice president of the Korean American Community Association of Howard County (KACAHI), and she was nominated to serve on a governor's commission on Asian affairs.

"It's been her passion, helping others," said Kim's husband, Dr. Victor Kim. "She's always on the go." Dr. Kim, an emergency-medicine physician, is medical director of AllCare and one of three physicians on the staff. He also works at Howard County General Hospital.

Born in Georgetown, Margaret Kim grew up in Potomac in the 1960s. Her parents were both Korean immigrants. She studied business at local universities, earning a bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland and a master's at Georgetown University.

While an executive at AT&T, Kim often spent months working abroad, learning the local language. She is fluent in English and Korean, and she speaks some Spanish and Portuguese.

"I just learned to work with people of diverse backgrounds," Kim said. "I learned to pull people together. ... I think that actually helped me for all the outreach I do now."

Kim has two grown stepchildren from her husband's previous marriage. The Kims' 6-year-old daughter attends St. John's Parish Day School, where Margaret Kim is on the development board.

When Kim and her husband were looking to open a health clinic in 2005, it was Howard County's diversity that attracted them. Kim said that when she moved to Howard, she felt embraced by the community. "We just fit right in, almost like we've been here a number of years," she said.

The Kims see their clinic as filling the gap between an emergency room visit and waiting for an appointment with a primary-care physician. The clinic also offers free blood-pressure screenings to the public. There is almost always a Spanish-speaking and Korean-speaking staff member available during office hours, seven days a week.

Sometimes, Margaret Kim gives extra help to clients who have language difficulties or who need referrals for further medical care. "They just don't know how to navigate the [health care] system ... so I just take them on," she said.

But Kim's help has not been limited to the clinic. Before moving to Howard, she became active in KACAHI. One aim of the Korean-American group is to connect Howard County's Korean residents with the community at large. Dr. Sue Song, a past president of KACAHI, called Kim "the perfect person [to develop] that kind of relationship. She's very outgoing, very well-spoken ... and has a very powerful personality in that she really respects others."

Columbia resident Christine Lee, a friend of Kim's, said, "She knew that she was moving into the county, and she felt like this was going to be her home for a long time and she wanted to give something back to the community."

That energy prompted Lee to nominate Kim for a position on the Governor's Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. Lee said Kim is "such a leader in the community. I thought that her talents could be utilized further in the state as well." Kim is going through the application process for the commission.

Kim's energy is also what drew Beverly White-Seals to her. White-Seals, who chaired Howard County General Hospital Foundation's board of trustees until June, met Kim at a luncheon last year. Kim "was so energetic and engaged," White-Seals said. "She was just a nice person, certainly willing to get involved." She invited Kim to serve on the foundation's community relations council.

White-Seals values Kim's opinion as a Korean-American. "She is giving me perspective into the community that I otherwise would not have," she said, such as "health care issues ... that are prevalent in the Korean community."

Through their work for the hospital, the two women have become friends. "She just kind of jumps into your life with both feet," said White-Seals.

Kim attributes her drive for volunteerism to the influence of her mother, Mary Louise Woo, who died in a car accident in June. Her mother "always told me to give back to the community," Kim said. She "was really my real mentor, my mother." Many of the friends that the Kims have made in the community attended Woo's funeral.

"I feel like I've been in Howard County all my life," Kim said. "I'm just happy to be here and help out wherever I can."

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