At the young age of 18, my mother left South Korea for Wuppertal, Germany to study nursing. How did a young woman from a rural province in Asia find her way to Europe? And what was her reason for leaving?
Starting in the 1950s and through the 1960s, West Germany experienced a post-war economic boom and the labor market was not able to keep pace. In response to the labor shortage, the government initiated a guest worker program and signed an agreement with South Korea. With South Korea facing economic hardship and chronic unemployment, my mother was one of 12,000 who relocated to a different continent for an opportunity to improve their life circumstances.
Throughout my life, my mother recounted the challenges she experienced: learning new languages, first German then English; making difficult choices to make ends meet; seeking affordable housing opportunities. However, she also shared that at each juncture, she had timely support to navigate the roadblocks. The story of her professional life most often ends with a sense of pride for a 30-year career in nursing. Her reason for leaving South Korea was clear. She left her beloved family and all that was familiar—to increase economic stability and seek opportunities that would assist in meeting her potential.
The values of inclusion, supports toward stability and opportunities for economic mobility frame both my personal and professional life.
Building Well-Being in Chicago
The Chicago Community Trust’s new strategy focuses on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap. It is the right next step. We need to work across sectors to address the root causes of the complex challenges we face in the region. By closing the racial wealth gap, the Chicago region will be more connected, more equitable and, overall, a thriving community. This will require a long-term, sustained effort.
My mother recounted the challenges she experienced: learning new languages, first German then English; making difficult choices to make ends meet; seeking affordable housing opportunities. Her reason for leaving South Korea was clear. She left her beloved family and all that was familiar—to increase economic stability and seek opportunities that would assist in meeting her potential.
At the same time, 25 percent of our residents are living in poverty and face urgent challenges such as homelessness, hunger and violence. The Trust recognizes and very much appreciates that we are part of the infrastructure that ensures that those who have the least are not falling through the cracks.
As a community foundation, we will continue to play an essential role as a partner to other mission-driven organizations for residents experiencing critical needs. Our guiding principles for addressing these needs and building that well-being will be equity and inclusion for those in greatest need, targeted supports and resources for organizations that spark new ideas toward lasting, sustainable solutions. Together, we will support pathways to stability, build well-being and strengthen social cohesion. The work will include access to high quality support, access to opportunities for economic mobility and support for robust systems and policies to address ongoing needs.
We will continue to play an essential role as a partner to other mission-driven organizations for residents experiencing critical needs.
Across neighborhoods, racial and sexual identities, abilities, immigration status and generations, the Trust will work to ensure that temporary critical needs are not determinative of one’s life outcome. Our efforts will converge to position residents—the region’s best asset—with the opportunity to realize their potential.
I have personally benefitted from the opportunities made available to my mother. Because of a policy that promoted an inclusive workforce, she had access to stability and an opportunity for economic mobility. She had appropriate supports at critical moments throughout her life that helped her become resilient in overcoming obstacles.
We all benefit when more people can fully contribute to our communities. Maximizing the potential of the people who are our neighbors, our colleagues and our civic body ensures all of our communities become and remain vibrant places to live and work.