Articles inspire people to help young offenders

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Articles inspire people to help young offenders

Kim Cheol-ho, chief executive of Bonjuk, a traditional rice porridge franchise, knows what it’s like to start from scratch.

It was the winter of 1989 when Kim came to Seoul with just 1 million won in his pocket. As an entrepreneur, he started selling body care products but after seven years, the Asian financial crisis broke out and his company collapsed.

To recover from bankruptcy, he became a street vendor, selling hotteok, hot Korean pancakes stuffed with brown sugar.

“If it weren’t for my cousins and friends that offered me help, it would have been difficult for me to regain the strength to live on,” Kim reminisced. “I made a promise to myself that the hardships would pass one day if I kept the will to overcome.”

He also told himself that once he returned to solvency, he would help others as people had once helped him. With the money he earned from selling hotteok on the streets, he opened a little juk (rice porridge) place in a back alley of Daehangno, central Seoul.

He now runs the biggest juk franchise in Korea with 1,200 stores nationwide.

The chance for payback came to Kim recently after he read an article in the JoongAng Ilbo on juvenile detention centers featuring Lee Joong-myeong, the chairman of the Korea Juvenile Protection Association.

Inspired, Kim resolved to also help troubled young people. He decided to offer free cooking lessons to those juveniles who had brushes with the law and little practical hope in life.

Kim also plans on hiring the youths to work at Bonjuk’s Chungmuro branch, which is scheduled to open early next month. Profits from this store will be donated to the Juvenile Protection Association.

Following the recent two-part series published by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korea JoongAng Daily, other Koreans from a number of circles have reached out to help juveniles regain the courage and footing to turn around their lives.

According to the Korea Juvenile Protection Association, around 300 officials from academia, business and cultural areas have said they would like to help unfortunate youths following their discharged from detention centers.

“I was moved by the article,” said Hwang Myung-soo, a former executive of a mid-sized firm. “It made me think of my school years when I had to tutor the child of wealthy rich family to earn my tuition.”

Hwang wrote a letter to the association saying he would like to help and contributed some 45 million won.

Others like Kim Woo-sik, former Deputy Prime Minister; Sohn Sook, managing director of Beautiful Store; and Kim Jang-hwan, chairman of the Far East Broadcasting Company, have also expressed their willingness to give lectures to the juveniles.

“I hope sharing my past experiences with these teenagers will help them be inspired,” said former Deputy Prime Minister Kim.

By Kim Ki-hwan []

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