The History of KAAN
The 1990s coalescence of a critical mass of first-wave Korean-born adoptees reaching adulthood and the capabilities of the Internet spawned off several groups across the world that provide post-adoption support and advocacy.
KAAN is one of these organizations.
In April 1998, the Korean Consulate in San Francisco and Sacramento-based Friends of Korea co-sponsored a leadership summit that brought together adult adoptees from Korea, adoptive parents, other Korean-Americans, and representatives of the Korean government. Many of the speakers referenced the isolation they felt. A commitment was made to create a nationwide network of individuals and organizations that gathered annually for a conference.
KAAN’s first conference took place in Los Angeles in July 1999. Presenters discussed adoptees living and working in Korea, advice for making Korean connections and establishing local heritage groups, search for Korean family and life after a reunion, and developmental stages of the adoptive family. A panel of birthmothers shared their perspective. Programs for children and teens happened alongside adult programming, including sessions on racial identity, traditional and contemporary Korean culture, and facilitated conversations about personal experiences as adoptees.
Early leaders were Chris Winston, Eyoungsoo Park, Thomas Manvydas, Lindy Gelber, Terra Trevor, Ruby Wolff, Wayne Berry, Deborah Johnson, Tom Masters, Barbara Kim, Jan King, Margie Perscheid, Luke and Grace Kim, and Senator Paull Shin.
Forming an organization that spanned the country and included several demographics not used to partnering together had its challenges. Despite occasional misunderstandings, leaders were convinced that common ground was worth pursuing and that the community would be stronger for the effort. Several years in, leaders responded to the concerns of some adoptees by establishing a separate track of adoptee-only sessions, which remains a hallmark of KAAN’s programming.
A model evolved with the annual conference traveling to a new city each year, partnering with a local community for each event. An adoptee and an adoptive parent were sought as local coordinators with the local Korean-American community tapped for funding, cultural events, youth program support, and more. Conferences took place in New Jersey, Washington, Minnesota, and Virginia before returning to California. In 2003 and 2006, leaders also organized trips to Korea (the latter coinciding with KAAN’s one international conference, held in Seoul and co-sponsored by InKAS). In 2006, KAAN also self-published books that were written by two of its leaders (Pushing Up the Sky by Terra Trevor and A Euro-American on a Korean Tour at a Thai Restaurant in China by Chris Winston).
By this time, some leaders were naturally transitioning out due to age, health, life changes, and other commitments. New leaders were not replacing them at the same rate. Due to publishing books, hosting trips, and meaningful annual conferences, KAAN’s image, and programs were healthy but, behind the scenes, funding was dropping, a Board no longer existed, and the remaining volunteer leaders were tired.
In 2009, Stacy Schroeder agreed to take over from Chris Winston as executive director and began a one-year transition while also serving as the local coordinator for the 2010 conference. Her goals were to rebuild the infrastructure while maintaining and expanding on KAAN’s strong programs. Schroeder re-established a leadership body, now called the Advisory Council. More staff positions were gradually created and filled as well, including a wellness team, photographer, marketing coordinator, social media staff, and sponsorship team. In 2016, Kimberly McKee was appointed the first assistant director of KAAN. Partnerships with first Connect-a-Kid and then Sejong Cultural Education Inc. were forged to lead the youth programming. A childcare tier was also added. Schroeder enlarged the conference program into a magazine with articles by speakers and other community members.
During this growth, KAAN’s commitment to serving the whole community with adoptees at our center remained strong. People were better informed about KAAN’s needs and began to feel ownership in our financial situation as well as our programming. Annual conferences continued though the local component was modified as more ongoing staff joined the team. KAAN returned to some of our more popular conference destinations.
In 2018, Schroeder decided to step down from her role. The Advisory Council amended the bylaws to take on even more responsibility, including the appointment of KAAN’s third executive director, Katie Bozek, effective September 17, 2018. The organization stands poised to move into our third decade of community building with a reliable team of leaders and supporters.