TEANECK, N.J. – Low-income Asian people of all ages have a second home in Teaneck at the Asian Women’s Christian Association (AWCA) on Genesee Avenue.
That’s been the goal since a group of Korean immigrants created the nonprofit group in Franklin Lakes 36 years ago.
“The founding members were part of the YWCA in Korea,” said Rachel Kang, the program director. “When they came to New Jersey, they saw a great need around them, especially in the Asian immigrant community, for access to social services and especially for translational services.”
Nothing has changed but much has grown. Today the association operates the longest-running, Asian-specific senior center in the state. A total of 220 are enrolled in its programs, which are presented in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.
The AWCA also runs a counseling center just in the Korean language as well as a Grace Hotline, also in Korean, that people can call from 9 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Fridays.
“There’s an especially strong stigma on mental health issues in the Korean culture,” said Kang, who is studying to be a social worker. “They don’t want to talk about it. They consider it shameful.
“What our counseling center is trying to do is break that down, make those services more accessible, more approachable.”
The AWCA also runs the first Asian home health care agency in Bergen County, specializing in certified home health aides who speak Korean or Chinese. The AWCA also trains aides.
For low-income Asian youth, the association offers a free SAT Scholarship Class.
Kang says she sees the importance of bridging the gap between all the generations—the Immigrant Generation; the so-called 1.5 Generation, who came to the U.S. when they were young; and the Second Generation who, like her, were born in the U.S. but still steeped in Korean culture.
“When I interact with the seniors who come to the center, it’s like interacting with my own grandparents,” she said. “I learn from them. But I also try to teach them how things have changed over the years.”
For more information, visit www.awcanj.org .