The number of homeless children in the United States has steadily increased in recent years to an estimated 2.5 million. In the nation’s capital alone, it's estimated that more than 1,200 children are living in shelters or on the street. One Korean immigrant has made it his mission to make a difference for some of these kids.
Dong Kim shows up every day for a few hours at D.C. General, the largest homeless shelter in Washington. Outside, he brings rice balls and fruit, and fun for the children living there. They call him Master Dong.
“I like to sing with Master Dong. And I like to eat rice with Master Dong. And I like doing all activities with Master Dong,” said Aerial, a five-year-old shelter resident.
Kim's program, which has a spiritual undertone, is a mix of martial arts, meditation and gardening. He has teenage volunteers who help him.
“I teach them to make sure you have home today. Every kid points their body as a home. And we find the big home is nature,” said Kim.
Kim said his mother planted the idea of volunteer service.
"My mother came from South Korea to my college graduation. She asked me why in the rich country so many people sleep on the street. Why don’t you help these people?” he recalled.
But he was not interested in doing that until 19 years ago, when his mother had a stroke and passed away.
“I was so saddened and my mom’s voice echoed me. I went to the homeless shelter. I saw the children living there and started working with the children,” said Kim.
For Kim, gardening is a way to reconnect children with happiness.
“When they garden they become to have a super feeling because they can raise something. Kids living in a homeless shelter they don’t feel like an ownership of anything. Every day when they come from school, they can care about something,” he said.
The children also learn about helping others. They compost and make earthworm soil. The enriched soil has been sent to other children living in impoverished parts of the world including refugee camps.
“So the kids can raise their own vegetables and our children feel so proud of they can help other children,” Kim explained.
Parents see the positive impact of Kim’s program on their children.
“My seven year old son was having behavior problems at school. He was aggressive with the teachers and the students. After working with Master Dong, his behavior improved tremendously,” said Traniceia Campbell, a resident at the shelter.
Kim funds his activities with money he earns teaching martial arts at schools and churches.
He plans to expand his program to children in refugee camps and living on the street in Turkey, because, he said, children are our future.