Disabled students and volunteers celebrate 15 yrs in Classroom of Love

November 25, 2015
Students and volunteers of the East Los Angeles branch of Classroom of Love

Students and volunteers of the East Los Angeles branch of Classroom of Love lift up a giant soccer ball.

By The Korea Times Los Angeles staff

The volunteers said they went to go help the children but came out as better people.

The mothers heard there was a Saturday school for disabled children and came out having received more than they had ever imagined.

That’s the magic of the “Classroom of Love,” known as Class AGAPE, which met its 15th-year anniversary this year.

The classroom, operated under the Milal Mission in Southern California, started in Orange County at the turn of the century. In following years, the program expanded to Los Angeles and East Los Angeles. Now it’s available in Irvine and Torrance.

For Helen, who is the mother of a classroom student, 20-year-old John Lee, the anniversary is as special as any.

She first arrived at the classroom, holding 8-year-old John’s hand, in 2003. In the dozen years since Helen and John’s first visit, the number of students has grown. The classroom has introduced a variety of programs. There are more volunteers.

A few years ago, she found herself in tears at an event that gathered all students and teachers from each branch to watch videos of the classroom.

“I cried thinking, ‘He grew up here. Our John became a young man inside the Classroom of Love,’” Helen Lee said. “Until now, this place has never once asked a single thing of us. I’m so thankful to have only received.”

Oh Soo-hee is the mother of 11-year-old Joseph Kim, a student at the Irvine classroom.

Joseph, who has two older siblings, had always wanted to try music, taekwondo and go to summer camp, but those weren’t easy activities to provide a child with his disability.

“Joseph got to try orchestra and taekwondo through volunteers who came to the classroom, and they even brought in a music healing teacher,” Oh said. “I received a letter from a high school student volunteer who helped my son during summer camp. He said he was scared to work with the disabled but that, thanks to Joseph, he realized he’s also a part of our community. I was thankful, too.”

Mothers call the classroom a place of rest. It’s the only place they can trust to take care of their children. For parents with disabled children, even schools can’t provide that kind of reassurance.

Volunteers, in turn, thank the parents for putting that trust in their hands. They say it’s a chance for them to grow and learn.

Volunteering at the classroom helped Jennifer Kang, now head teacher of the Torrance program, choose her life path.

She first started working with the children as a sophomore in high school. Eventually, she enrolled in Cal State LA to study special education.

“The help of countless volunteers has helped Classroom of Love grow as it has,” said Sara Lee, education director. She is also a former volunteer. “Although there are difficult moments, student volunteers grow through them.”

The Classroom of Love opens every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is currently looking for volunteers, high school freshmen and sophomores, to join its 2016 team.

For more information, visit milalmission.com.