Oregon group: Book to bring Korean adoptees 'peace and clarity'

1 April 2022

Nonprofit overcomes previous group's mental health obstacles to publish translation of doctor's memoir

After recovering from a series of setbacks, a new Oregon City-based nonprofit organization for adoptees has bounced back by publishing the memoir of an award-winning Korean doctor and continuing to support people of Korean descent in the United States.

Canby resident Jodi Gill, who serves as president of the new Adoptee Group, has traveled to Korea over a dozen times and has had the opportunity to visit the orphanage where she lived before being adopted in April 1976. Previously, Gill served on the board of the Gide Foundation, an organization with the same mission that had to dissolve due to the mental health conditions of two of its co-founders, one of whom was identified as misappropriating funds.

Gill said that mental health conditions and addiction among Korean-American adoptees is unfortunately common, and it's estimated that 20% of them struggle with these symptoms on a daily basis.

"Despite the mental health disruptions, the co-founders hold a place of value and respect for where we are today," Gill said. "The Adoptee Group is fulfilling what the Gide Foundation wanted to accomplish at a turbo speed despite the setbacks that come with working in a community where pain lingers."

The Adoptee Group successes include helping adoptees with their pursuit toward citizenship. The National Council for Adoption and other advocacy organizations recently estimated that 15,000 to 18,000 Korean adults who were adopted as children by U.S. citizens do not have U.S. citizenship. That's about 10% of the more than 167,000 who have arrived in the U.S., according to the South Korean government's Ministry of Health and Welfare. But no one knows how many for sure; the U.S. government does not track how many adoptees receive citizenship.

Some adoptees have been deported or live in fear of deportation, so Gill and a volunteer with the nonprofit organization have helped adoptees obtain appointments with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The latest woman they're helping will be meeting with federal immigration officials on April 13, a meeting she had been trying obtain for 10 years.

The Adoptee Group Cares, or TAG Cares, is an additional new program that provides financial awards for expenses that support wellness for adoptees.

"We are no experts in mental health, therefore the TAG Cares awards are given to clinicians, professionals and organizations who are experts," Gill said.

Adoptee Group's new team raises funds for humanitarian projects, and proceeds from the newly published book are slated to go to a South Korean medical facility where 200 severely disabled and special-needs Korean children and adult orphans receive around-the-clock care. They hope to raise $5,000 through the book to buy all of the orphans a new down coat.

Book published in English

Shedding light on the origins of adoptees is another way that the group is helping Korean adoptees be educated and have a better understanding of the history of the post-war situations, along with South Korea's culture and the economic situation. Having worked directly with underprivileged and abandoned babies and children, retired pediatrician Dr. Cho Byung Kuk's memoir about the post-Korean War conditions that she witnessed will be published this May for the first time in English.

"This English version is a historical piece that will bring clarity and understanding to many of the near 200,000 English-speaking international Korean adoptees who are searching their roots," Gill said.

Cho served first at a charity hospital in war-torn Seoul, and later at a clinic set up at Holt Ilsan Town, an entity under Holt Korea based in South Korea. Bertha and Harry Holt, an evangelical couple from Oregon, established Holt Korea shortly after 1958, which enabled adoption to families overseas of children orphaned as a result of the post-Korean War turmoil.

Cho's memoirs were published in the Korean language in 2009, but most adoptees were sent to the U.S. and Europe and are not able to read this book.

"Every year at Holt Ilsan, we had groups of visitors from overseas. They were adopted by parents mostly in the United States and Europe when they were babies, so most of them don't speak or read Korean," Cho told The Korea Times.

Cho desired to have her book translated in English so Korean adoptees could learn about the origins of overseas adoption in their place of birth. The Adoptee Group is publishing Cho's memoir under the title, "Before Adoption...There was Dr. Cho." Cho's memoir title as it was published in Korean translates literally into English as, "Grandmother doctor puts down a stethoscope."

Cho, at the time a young pediatrician who had recently graduated from medical school, was witness to the near-total devastation of the country.

"Mothers abandon their babies because they cannot provide for them and many abandoned and orphaned children roam the countryside. In Seoul, child beggars and abandoned babies are so common that they are scooped up every day and taken to Seoul City Hall for distribution to hospitals or orphanages," Cho narrates in the translated memoir.

Cho's book will be officially released in May to mark her 90th birthday, and a launch party is scheduled for April 7 at All Nations Community Church in Yongin, South Korea. Pre-order the book at theadopteegroup.org.

Foundation overcomes obstacles

Gill said that two other Gide Foundation co-founders shook up the organization when both stepped down in September 2020 without a succession plan and halted communication with the community. One of them spent more than $1,200 in funds that were intended for mental health initiatives to start his own nonprofit group.

Gill reported the incident to Oregon Department of Justice officials, public records show, saying that the Gide Foundation obtained a lawyer to notify the co-founder of how his use of the funds to start his own spinoff group was in violation of state laws governing distribution of funds by nonprofits.

"That message was given to him, but was not responded to," Gill wrote to DOJ officials. "It is known that intercountry adoptees struggle with mental health and this is clearly one of those times."

Remaining leaders walked through the previous foundation's dissolution process and creation of a new entity, KAD Project doing business as The Adoptee Group, and then received approval from DOJ officials for a transfer of over $4,000 in remaining funds. The Gide Foundation's annual report from 2020 shows that it raised nearly $10,000 for its programs, with $1,500 going to a previous book project, and another $2,000 going to legal expenses. These legal expenses included the $1,200 that was tagged as an unlawful distribution of funds, Gill said.

"Our office has no objection to the organization's dissolution and transfer of assets as outlined in the dissolution plan and may distribute the assets when the KAD Project is fully registered with our office," wrote the DOJ's Charity Registrar Wendy Lambo on March 31, 2021.

Gill's troubles didn't end there, as past volunteers from the Gide Foundation claimed she was embezzling funds, some saying it was their mission from God to take her down. On Aug. 10, the TAG board decided it was time to make a public statement with verified documents.

"After the cease-and-desist letter was sent, the lingering harassment came to a close," Gill said.