Always ready with a joke, Young Chang Kim was the life of the party when friends gathered at the family’s home in Queens, N.Y. He also taught Bible at church, enjoyed soccer and played the guitar. To earn a living, Young Chang ran several sewing workshops. The businesses provided a comfortable middle-class life for his wife Sun Ae, a homemaker, and their three children.
That life was drastically altered in 2004 when he suffered a stroke, and could no longer work. With no disability insurance to replace his lost income, the illness left the family scrambling. Because of her poor English, Sun Ae took any job she could land. She drove car pools, worked as a janitor, babysat and prepared meals. Hannah and Esther, the oldest children, stepped in to help, too. Academically gifted students, the sisters worked as tutors. They lined up back-to-back tutoring sessions and taught until 9 at night. Their own schoolwork came later. But it still wasn’t enough. The Kims moved multiple times, each apartment shabbier than the last. They qualified for food stamps and got help from their church.
In 2008, they left New York for Atlanta, where the cost of living was less. A month later, Young Chang was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. He died two months after that. The Kims could only afford a plain funeral paid for by donations from their church.
Today Hannah and Esther are attending college with the help of scholarships, and their younger brother Paul hopes to follow in their footsteps. But the financial hardships continue. “I hate how each remembrance of my father is through each bill that I pay, rather than through the memories of the healthy, loving father he so deserves to be remembered as,” Esther says.