Jessica was a case manager with the Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) program at KYCC. GRYD was established as part of an intensive effort to foster youth development and reduce the influence of street gangs in the lives of youth ages 10-15 in the Rampart/Pico Union area.
Where is your hometown?
Koreatown. I was born at Kaiser in Hollywood, but I went to Wilton Elementary School and JB (John Burroughs Middle School), so born and raised in Koreatown. I didn’t go to college in Koreatown—I went to SF State—but I eventually came back.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
Both. My family still lives in the heart of Koreatown, in such a central area that as soon as you leave, you can tell you’re no longer in Koreatown.
My commute to work is seven minutes. I work with at-risk youth in the Rampart-2 Zone, which is a part of Koreatown. We help them reach goals that we set together, raise their grades, improve family bonds, cope with trauma. We tackle all of that. As a family team, we work with the family as well as the youth themselves. You really are invited into their life story, you get to see how they were raised and how they got to be who they are now. I really enjoy diving into family dynamics.
One of my first clients: I felt like we had built pretty good rapport. He had talked to me about things he had never spoken about to anyone else, such as mental health issues, suicidal ideation, family dynamics. To him, it was normal. He never saw it as an issue, the thoughts he was having, the feelings he was having towards his mom. He never thought there was help for him. He felt alone at school—he was bullied. We got him the resources he needed. He was treated—referred to mental health and mentor programs—and now he’s doing a lot better. He seems happier and none of that would’ve been possible if he hadn’t invited me into his life.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
I LOVE Koreatown. I love it. It’s one of the only pockets that I enjoy in Los Angeles. There’s still a strong sense of family roots here. It’s one of the only pockets where I still see mom-and-pop shops and little family-owned restaurants everywhere. I feel like I only see that in Koreatown and Torrance. It’s a vibrant neighborhood. It’s fairly safe, although it wasn’t always like that. It’s a wonderful neighborhood full of history.
Koreatown is home. The Wiltern is where I would get off from the bus after high school every day. I would hang out at coffee shops to study. Even now, I go to Caffe Bene or Document after work to do work. It’s how I decompress after work: Go to a coffee shop and surf the internet. My family is here, too — my brother, my dad, my mom, my aunt, my uncle and my dog — and we all come together at night and for special events. Other than going to college, I’ve never moved and my parents have lived in the same apartment since I was born. You just know there’s family here, in Koreatown.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
The Baskin Robbins on Third. I used to go there all the time, and the man who works there used to give us plenty of ice cream, so I was never left wanting more. Some Baskin Robbins employees are stingy with their ice cream, but this man would give me two and count it as one. I love that Baskin Robbins. I would go with friends and family, for all occasions—birthdays, to celebrate good grades, PMSing…everything.