MilAl: Home with A Mission

MilAl: Home with a Mission from Elly W. Yu on Vimeo.

This was a video produced for senseinthecity.com, a multimedia journalism project about people living with disabilities in New York City.

By Rachel Bryson-Brockman and Elly Yu

Kevin and Minkyu share a room on the top floor of MilAl Mission, a group home for Korean-Americans with disabilities in Flushing, Queens. But the two are closer to brothers than roommates – Kevin, 19, has a speech impediment that makes his language unclear, and Minkyu, 31, is the only person in the home able to translate and give Kevin a voice.

This strong sense of family is at the core of MilAl’s services. Nestled on a tree-lined street, it serves as a haven for Korean-American youth and adults with disabilities. It has three components: a group home, an after-school program and a once-a-week recreational program at a nearby church.

“When a parent has a special needs child, there is a loss because of everything that child could have been,” said Edd Lee, a program director at MilAl. “With Asian parents, there’s an even greater loss because of the culture of high status and expectations.”

In a culture that can often put pressure on high achievement and education, the organization leaders say that MilAl is a place where people can be who they are.

“We stress here that it’s not about teaching them or trying to better them or have them meet a certain expectation,” said Esther Kwak, a program director at MilAl. “It’s really about community and social relationships, which they don’t get at other academic-based programs.”

 All week, the MilAl group holds an after-school program for ten children and has activities for its six adult residents. And on Saturdays, MilAl hosts a program at the Korean Church of Queens in East Elmhurst, where 70 young adults and children gather for social activities. On any given Saturday, they’ll do arts and craft and have gym time.

MilAl does not get government funding: it relies on donations from churches and individuals.

The organization provides social services for a community that can face cultural and language barriers to traditional government programs and agencies. Many Korean immigrants don’t know about government services for the disabled or how to access them, said Kyle Hwang, a volunteer manager of MilAl’s group home.

“All of them actually say one similar thing: ‘I wish I died after my child,’ so that they could take care of their child forever,” he said. Many of the disabled children and adults experience language barriers, but also cultural barriers. They want to feel like they’re at home and with family – which MilAl strives to provide. “We have to do our best as a Korean society, but immigrants do have it harder,” Hwang said.

 

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