Marilyn is the Elementary Program Lead Teacher at KYCC’s Menlo Family Center. She was raised in Mid-City by a single mom and went to high school in Santa Monica. She was introduced to KYCC when she was a high school volunteer. Including her days as a student volunteer, Marilyn has worked at KYCC for nine years.

Where is your hometown?

I grew up in Mid-City, next to the Culver City area. It’s so small that no one knows where it is and I have to refer to Culver City. I would describe it as not too hood but not too rich either. It’s the perfect environment where you have a mix of Latinos and African Americans. I’ve grown up there my entire life, and it’s just a place where I feel comfortable being. The environment is very calming. In Mid City, traffic flows and it’s more of an open space. It’s a very residential area and with USC now being down the street, students rent out houses and live in them which made the area safer. There are more police patrolling the area compared to back in the day, driving around to make sure nothing is going on.

Do you live or work in Koreatown?

I’ve worked for a total of nine years in Koreatown. It’s nine years with KYCC working with youth. It has definitely exposed me to the different health needs—health, mental, academic—of the youth. Now, I work with families at Menlo as well and see the behavior of the kids. I talk to Mom or Dad, and they share info on the environment that their child has grown up in.

One of my youth doesn’t use his words when it comes to his anger issues. His way is throwing stuff on the floor and making a big scene. Mom shared that Dad is not in the picture. She sees her son’s friends with a complete family but his family isn’t. I tell my kids that I don’t want to be a bad person in their life. I want to be the one person who is going to give them the benefit of the doubt and be a good listener. I made that very clear in the beginning. They know I can be nice, but they know that I can be the mom figure and call them out on their actions. I think that’s what is unique about our bond: that they know when they’ve done something wrong and end up holding themselves accountable because they know what I’ll say to them.

In a given week, I interact with around 15 kids. The ages stem from 5 to 14 years old. The reason why I talk to the middle school kids is that our programs are located next to each other and some of them were in the Summer Day Camp in Menlo, which is how they got to know me. They like coming up and saying hi to Miss Marilyn, but when it’s time, I tell them, “Yo, you gotta go!”

What are your thoughts on Koreatown?

I feel that there is the upper side of K-Town and then there’s the lower side. That’s mainly due to my experience at Wilton Center where a lot of kids were financially stable. They were able to get access to extracurricular resources or tutoring services if they needed it. But here at Menlo, there’s a high need for that but not as many resources available to my youth because their families are low-income. That’s where I come in.

I use what I’ve learned at Wilton and implement it here at Menlo. I expose the youth and have their program rely on academic services. At the end of the day, kids get bored with just academics. I try to give them different experiences. I have a volunteer who comes in every Wednesday to do a mindfulness practice with our youth and tries to get them in touch with their senses. It’s something my kids enjoyed because within 15 minutes, they were able to forget about their personal problems at home. It shocked me. We have gardening and Prevention Education’s Positive Action Curriculum because every child has his or her moments of implosive behavior, and I want them to be independent with their actions. I’m trying to teach them to see what they did wrong on their own.

My mom was a single mom. I considered myself a good child and was in tune with my academics. I lived in a very neutral home. All of my exposure was through volunteering with KYCC during my time at Wilton—how teachers would talk to certain kids or if there was a child with autism or mental disability. It’s little things I picked up, like seeing how Vicki, Jeff, and Edison talked to kids. You learn things. 

At Wilton, it’s a different demographic income-wise. Because the parents are paying tuition and giving money to the services, the services have to uphold a standard. Here at Menlo, there’s not as much of an extra push because it’s free. The kids may be low income, but there’s nothing wrong with having them get a taste for this or that.

I would like to see the Menlo kids treated the same way that the Wilton kids are treated. I would like my youth to attend certain events. More availability to resources. I would like to see my kids get a martial arts class, because it builds different traits and can be accessible at low-cost. 

Wilshire and Vermont, although it’s congested, you are able to walk outside without feeling like something is going to happen to you, like get jumped, but here I feel like I have to be careful when I walk outside. There’s been car break-ins. So there’s that sense of safety. When I was located at Wilshire and Western. I never heard about break-ins.

Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?

I would say that my favorite place is Wilshire and Western. I would take the Big Blue Bus from Santa Monica all the way to K-Town when I was a volunteer—I was coming from school. Because I didn’t like my high school, when I would get off the bus, I was able to breathe a sense of relief. I was with my people and this is where I belong. I was able to recruit two of my friends and we would stop at Coffee Bean and talk about what challenges we had that day, like school and teachers emailing us, and what we had to look forward to, like what I would assign the kids. Wilshire and Western was a relief because I was able to take my mind off the stressful environment that my high school created for my social and academic life. Being with the youth, we were able to help them with their math. I volunteered with my friends at KYCC and had our little group so I know a lot of the volunteers. We were called the Diversity Crew: Latinos, African Americans, and our Vietnamese friend.