AFFI Story

Gabriel and Elizabeth Cho

Asian American Foster Family Initiative

Retirement Brightens for New Korean Foster Parents

Excerpt from an article published in the Los Angeles Times, by Steve Lopez

One night in mid-September, Gabriel and Elizabeth Cho couldn’t sleep. The retired San Dimas couple were too excited about what the next day would bring. Mrs. Cho prayed, and she thought about preparing a second casserole, just in case one of her guests didn’t care for kimchi jjigae.

This new chapter in their lives had begun several months earlier, when they saw the news that Los Angeles County has about 600 to 800 Asian and Pacific Islander children who had been removed from their homes, but no licensed Korean American foster parents. Some of those kids are under the temporary care of extended family. But others — traumatized by abuse or neglect — are dealt the added challenge of trying to start new lives in homes where the language, customs and food were all foreign to them.

I thought, ‘OK, maybe it’s my place to take care of them,'” said Mr. Cho, and his wife endorsed the idea.  In February, they drove to a church in Anaheim to hear more about how they could help.

I thought, 'OK, maybe it's my place to take care of them,'" said Mr. Cho, and his wife endorsed the idea.  

AFFI

The Chos attended an orientation in March and learned that becoming licensed foster parents would take months. They had to undergo background checks, home inspections and 33 hours of training.  The Chos were among 24 families who entered the initial training program, and they were the first to become licensed. Estee Song, a training program manager for the agency, had recommended that the Chos begin with one child. But an attorney contacted KFAM to say that a brother and sister had been separated and were struggling in their foster homes, and it might be best if they were reunited.

The girl was 14, the boy 10. The Chos didn’t hesitate.

They readied the house, preparing the rooms their own son and daughter once used. Mrs. Cho made bibimbap and added doenjang-jjigae to the kimchi dish. Mr. Cho made arrangements to enroll the kids in nearby public schools. They were prepared to offer love and structure, but knew their role could well be temporary since the children might be reunited with their family some day.

The girl was 14, the boy 10. The Chos didn't hesitate.

On the big day, Sept. 16, the children arrived, and there seemed to be an immediate sense of relief all around. The kids were respectful, and the girl, who spoke very little English, appreciated being able to use her first language. “As soon as they came, we took them upstairs to show them they have their own rooms,” said Mr. Cho. “They were so excited. They’d never had their own rooms.”

Ten weeks have gone by, and there have been a few challenges. The siblings hadn’t been together for a long time, and they quarreled until reconnecting with each other.

The Chos make weekly visits to the library, and the kids already know the daily drill after school: First comes homework, then an hour of reading, and only then can they play video games or watch television.

Do they regret putting their travel plans on hold? Not at all. There is joy, Mr. Cho said, in their hearts and in their home.

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