Heart and Seoul

It all started with a long-distance phone call between two brothers, comparing notes about what was going on at work.

It turns out that GuHun Kwon, a Case Manager in our Medicaid Case Management program, has a brother, GuTaek, in Seoul, South Korea, who works as a Director of a Social Services Center.  Their conversations eventually led to a delegation of 8 leaders from Yangcheon-Gu, South Korea, “stopping by” Tacoma to meet with Pierce County Human Services after a tour of similar programs in Canada.

Yangcheon is a district (or “Gu”) of Seoul, South Korea.  Its population is 439,000, and it covers just over 6.7 square miles (for a population density of 70,000 residents/sq. mile).  Compared to Pierce County, with its population of 921,000 and 1670 square miles (a density of 510 residents/sq. mile), Yangcheon is a dense, urban metropolis. If we had a similar population density here, Pierce County would be home to 117 MILLION people (yes, I did that math twice!).

The delegation visiting us was from the Yangcheon-Gu Social Security Council, which oversees dozens of resource centers across the district that house day programs, outreach, and related supportive services for their seniors, individuals with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations.  They were interested to learn about our own Aging and Disability Resources Division (ADR), so we shared information about our outreach, call center, case management, client assessment tools, funding, and partnerships.  They asked lots of questions (through interpreters, who were actually Human Services case managers pulling double duty) and were driven to learn how we support our senior and disabled population so they could do more in their own community.  After a full day of presentations and small group discussions with our team, we arranged a second day of visits with local service providers.

Our new Korean friends
Director Park and Deputy Executive Grimm
A connection that transcends distance or culture

I’m grateful to the team of staff from ADR who planned this week’s visit (GuHun, Yoori, Tiffany), and to the many others who presented to and met with our Korean counterparts.  Through conversation, food (we fed them a Panera sandwich buffet!), and some ceremony (photos with Deputy Executive Dan Grimm), we built a partnership with colleagues who may live far away, but who do the same important work we do here in Pierce County to support our community’s vulnerable populations.  In these times of international complexity and high-stakes politics, it was refreshing to be reminded that communities across the globe share the same drive to care for our neighbors.

At the end of our first day, Director NohSook Park invited us to visit them in Yangcheon, so that’s my new goal – travelling with a delegation of Pierce County staff to find out what we can learn from our colleagues in Korea.  If you want to help me plan the trip, please reach out (and don’t tell Bruce!). ?



Heather Moss is the director the Human Services department.