DJ You started her career working with families and children in 2000 as a social worker for Holt Children’s Services of Korea, a separate but closely tied organization to Holt International . Recently, she accepted a position as Holt Korea’s outreach program director after serving as a social worker in Seoul for the last 16 years. “I’m very happy to still be serving children in different countries,” DJ says. “I was called to love the children of the world.”
Below, DJ shares about her cherished career uniting children with families through adoption — many of them Holt families in the U.S. — and what it has meant to her to work with the organization Harry and Bertha Holt founded 60 years ago in her native South Korea.
Since I was in 6th grade, I’ve wanted to be a social worker. Serving orphaned children has always been my dream, and I know God called me to care for orphans. My mother was a social worker and great role model for me. She ran an orphanage with my aunt in Seoul, South Korea, and I was around children all the time.
My mother’s love and passion for orphaned children was unstoppable. One of her friends introduced her to the Holt reception center that was not too far from my mother’s orphanage. Whenever my mother had some extra time, she went there and volunteered to take care of babies. She remembers working with Harry Holt. She said he always took care of the most vulnerable children — loving them, feeding them and “making them chubby,” then giving them back to the caregiver when they were healthy enough. Then, he would take care of the next vulnerable child to come into care. My mother still remembers the children’s names and nicknames. They are all probably grandparents now.
Like my mother, I had hoped and dreamed to work in an adoption agency one day, especially an international adoption agency. When I was a junior in college, my sister and I did a volunteer escort trip, bringing a baby to the United States and into their new family. The baby we brought home cried a lot and it was difficult during the long flight. But meeting with the forever family at the airport was incredible and so emotional. There were so many friends and families and welcoming people. It was a big welcome ceremony and I could not stop crying. I will never forget that moment. Since then, I have escorted 11 babies to the United States, and once traveled with two babies at the same time. One child I escorted continues to send small donations to other Holt babies on his “Gotcha Day.” It is really sweet.
Right after graduation from Ewha Womans University, I started working at the Ewha University Community Welfare Center. I was in charge of the children’s welfare program. I worked there for a year and a half, and during this time I was also in their graduate school for social welfare. In the meantime, my heart was still for the orphans.
One day, I noticed a newspaper ad that mentioned Holt was hiring social workers. I was very excited, and I applied enthusiastically. I was one of 100 applicants. After many interviews and tests, I was finally hired as an intake social worker, and held this position for two and a half years. In that time, I counseled 200 birth parents. Being involved with birth parents gave me the opportunity to see the big picture.
When I was 25, I had an opportunity to travel to the United States as part of an exchange staff program with Holt. I lived with the Roy and Linda Galien family in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Holt thought in order to serve adoptees and adoptive families, I should travel and get a feel for life abroad. The Galien family was a perfect match for me. I received unconditional love and was accepted by them. I loved my daily life in the United States. The Galiens and I ate dinners together. On Saturdays, we did family activities and on Sundays we went to church service. We also did a lot of volunteer work. During my time in the United States, I also learned what it was like to miss my birth country and environment, my family and the food… and the kimchi! It was a good life lesson. I still have a very good relationship with the Galien family.
When I returned from the United States, I continued to serve in the international adoption field and was blessed to help change more than 3,000 children’s lives. God gave me a big responsibility to change very special children’s lives. It was a big privilege and without praying and following God’s guidance, I would not have been able to do it. Sometimes adoptive families would ask me how I knew they were a perfect match for their child. All I could say was that I knew it was not by me, but by God that they were brought together. I was simply a tunnel.
The 3,000 cases that I was blessed to be involved in were all such beautiful stories. Dorinda Jurgens, a Korean adoptee, had two biological sons when she adopted two Korean girls. Her aunt is also a Korean adoptee. I love seeing adoptees become adoptive parents. In the last five years, ten percent of children placed through Holt Korea were adopted by Korean adoptees, and ten percent by Korean-Americans. I think this is beautiful. The adult adoptees received unconditional love and care, and want to give that same love to other children in need of families. This legacy has to continue, and so many adoptees are already doing it. I think as we celebrate Holt’s 60th anniversary, it is time to remember and honor the adoptees that become adoptive parents. This is why Holt exists.
Recently, I accepted a position as outreach program director for Holt Korea. It was a bit surprising but I’m happy to now be serving children in different countries. Holt Korea has a Holt Dream Center in Cambodia, Mongolia and Tanzania and they are planning to open one in Nepal soon. I will serve children from low-income families. Holt Korea will help feed them and educate them in order to help them accomplish their dreams. Through Holt Dream Center, I want to see children become doctors, nurses, teachers, pilots, engineers and government officers. I want to help them to achieve their dreams and goals. If Holt didn’t help them, they would have to work all day and never receive an education. But with the help of Holt, the children can dare to dream and can achieve their full potential.
In my new position, I want to embrace the children’s pain and difficulties. I want to wipe away their tears and make them smile again. I want to help them dream their dreams. I’m so excited to jump into the new field and area of work. It is sad to leave my beloved adoption field, but I’m happy that I’m still at Holt Korea and still able to serve children. I was called to love the children in the world.
DJ You | Seoul, South Korea