MADISON, NJ - A teacher of toddlers at the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center of the Madison Area YMCA, Soony Jo is now a U.S. Citizen. Although a well-loved member of the Kirby Center, she was taken by surprise when her colleagues celebrated her U.S. citizenship with a party that included a homemade American flag cake adorned with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream depicting the flag’s stars and stripes. She is truly grateful for the community that she considers family at the Kirby Center.
“As a foreigner, it was not easy. The Kirby Center raised me up,” says Soony. “They brought me in, gave me community and included me as family. The staff and families helped me so much. I was able to find stability.”
The Center also embraced her two sons, now grown, who attended the Kirby Center for after care and summer camp.
“I learned how to raise my children and maintain an American life for us. Kirby also gave my sons the right grounding and prepared them for school and life,” she says.
At 27, Jo came to America 27 years ago from South Korea, began volunteering at the Kirby Center in 2001 and joined the teaching staff two years later. She was welcomed by staff member Polly Eberhardt, and through Eberhardt's hard work and commitment to her, the Kirby Center sponsored Jo.
“Polly was so helpful. She got the ball rolling and did the heavy lifting to start the process of helping me become a citizen,” she says, adding that her road to citizenship took 18 years.
“My children were able to attend Kirby programs because we received financial assistance from the Y,” says Soony.
Paying it forward, she is an ambassador of the Y’s mission. As a cause-driven charitable organization, the Madison Area YMCA believes everyone, regardless of age, income or background, should have the opportunity to participate in Y programming.
Jo’s work each year for the Y’s Annual Campaign, which raises funds for financial assistance, is fruitful.
“I’m excited to talk to parents about the Y’s mission and explain to them all the good work the Y does,” she says. “I like the idea that the Y provides assistance for people who really need it. As much as possible, everyone should have an equal opportunity. I had that opportunity and I’m forever grateful.”