BLOG: Mysterious man donates $200,000 to CMS — Transforming the Korean community one event at a time

By Assunta Ng

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From left: Dr. Jai Jun Byeon, CMS COO Suzanne Pak, and Dr. Chang Shin (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

If the Chinese and Japanese-American communities are considered to be sophisticated fundraisers, the Korean community is a super star. The Korean community surprised many by eclipsing its older brothers with progressive attitudes towards charitable causes on Aug. 10.

Founded by Dr. Chang Shin, Cornerstone Medical Services (CMS) is a free health clinic for low-income clients in Federal Way and organized its first fundraising dinner at the Seattle Westin last Saturday, raising $380,000. The organization offers free health service on Saturdays, but its goal is to develop into a daily-service facility.

At first, I thought it was just a regular Korean community event, long and boring with the same old programming. I planned to take some photos and run, but my instincts told me to stay.

The result was amazing and most gratifying. The Korean community has unexpectedly matured to new heights by experimenting with bold ideas and breaking the traditional format of fundraising.

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“Landscape as Music” by the late Johsel Namkung. James Yoo bought the artwork for $10,000. (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Mysterious donor

“Someone has already committed $200,000,” whispered my Korean American friend as I entered the hall.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“It’s listed in the program as the Lee Family,” my friend replied.

“Where is the donor?” I said.

My friend roamed around to help me find the generous donor, but failed.

“I think he left,” she said. “He didn’t want people to know who he is.”

The truth was, Mr. Lee was never there, although he was offered the best seat in the house and formal recognition during the event, said Suzane Pak, CMS chief operating officer. Lee declined.

“You won’t be able to recognize Mr. Lee on the street,” said Pak, “He’s very humble. He dresses humbly.”

A Korean immigrant businessman, Lee once faced hardship, doing manual work, according to Pak. Now successful, he is looking for charities to give back to, choosing CMS after visiting the clinic. Both Lee and his wife are patients of the CMS founder, Dr. Shin, and Dr. Jai Jun Byeon, the volunteer CEO of CMS. Dr. Byeon is a primary care physician for the Sea Mar Community Health Center. All 16 medical doctors at CMS are volunteers.

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James Yoo (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

Old Korean events vs. new

In the past, Korean events never started on time. When they did begin, it would take them hours just to introduce the dignitaries before getting to the core of their program. Years ago, when the Asian Weekly wrote about how inefficient the events were, several Korean community leaders were upset about the story. Only the younger Koreans quietly agreed with us.

For the past three decades, it was normal for the Consul General of S. Korea to speak for 10 minutes to over half an hour at events.  But at the CMS dinner, Consul General Young Wan Song made no speeches. In fact, none of the other 10 U.S. officials gave any speeches. The only speech was from keynote speaker King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert. Her speech was only 10 minutes.

Instead, Consul General Young was on stage to present an award. CMS provided the spotlight to Young and other elected officials in the program with their photos and detailed biography. The 12-page program also listed over 100 names, consisting of all the leaders, prominent guests, and volunteers.

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Monica Namkung (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

The emcee acknowledged the officials by asking them to stand simultaneously. Their names weren’t even mentioned.

“Before, Korean events went vertical,” said Dr. Shin. “It always started with the Consul General from the top. I wanted it to be horizontal. I am sick and tired of hearing the same thing. What’s the point?”

If this happened in the Chinese community, Chinese and Taiwanese officials would be offended. If this happened in the Japanese community, some Japanese Americans would raise eyebrows.

Pak said it took a few phone calls, but the consul general eventually understood. Two days after the event, he even invited all the CMS volunteers to his waterfront home to celebrate the success of the CMS dinner. Given the event’s success, Korean community leaders weren’t concerned that they weren’t acknowledged, according to Pak.

Korean vs. Asian community

Dr. Shin said one of his goals is to create a new paradigm for the Korean community in terms of supporting charities. It has to be in unison with the Asian community and the mainstream, he explained. The guests at the CMS dinner were a mix of 400 Koreans, Asians, and mainstream attendees. It was a well-balanced guest list.

Before, Korean immigrants attended events because there were people they knew.

Dr. Shin said. “They come to give ‘faces.’”

Dr. Shin wanted his community to get away from those attitudes. “I want them to come because they have warm hearts, they want to do something meaningful for the community.”

CMS’s new paradigm helps to focus on the quality, low-price health care facility, he said. Already, CMS has a small percentage of Hispanic clients. He noticed that many Asian employers hire Mexican immigrant workers. CMS could help  bridge the gap and tension between Asian and Hispanic communities.

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Mary Nam (Photo by Assunta Ng/NWAW)

The goal of CMS would be to build a health clinic for people of color, he said. “We need to help one another and foster cooperation.”

Other surprises

KOMO TV anchor Mary Nam, who gave the opening remarks, was sitting by herself when I walked into the dining room. My impression was that she looked really big but glowing. I found out why.

Nam is now seven-and-a-half-months pregnant. The baby will be a boy, Nam said. She plans to work until the very last day of her pregnancy.

What if the baby comes during her broadcast?

Watch KOMO on Oct. 9, her due date. Anything can happen!

The most famous local Korean American artist was the late photographer Johsel Namkung. Before he died a few weeks ago, he donated his last artwork, “Landscape as Music” to CMS. The piece sold for $10,000. Moncia Namkung, his widow, was present.

The auctioneers were Samoan Lua Pritchard and African American Tony Benton, an entertainer. Very few past Korean events had non-Korean auctioneers. (end)

To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit www.seattlechinesepost.com.

2 Responses to “BLOG: Mysterious man donates $200,000 to CMS — Transforming the Korean community one event at a time”

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  1. […] HeonMin 포함) 425 한국 미국 커뮤니티 지도자들이 참석한 가운데 및 있었다. NW 아시아 주간, Joy 시애틀, 라디오 한국, KO-AM, 한국 중앙 일간지, 한국 Post 및 있었다. […]

  2. […] by over 425 Korean American community leaders (including Heonmin Lim of Microsoft) and covered by NW Asian Weekly, Joy Seattle, Radio Hankook, KO-AM, Korean Central Daily, and Korea Post. Cornerstone was also […]


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