A Sunset Park community center dedicated to unlocking immigrant youths’ access to legal services and spearheading leadership development has a new leader.
Atlas DIY, 462 36th Street, recently named Bay Ridge native Jason Yoon as executive director of the program.
Yoon, who heard about Atlas through an online advertisement for the position, was previously the director of education at the Queens Museum and executive director of a teen art center in Rhode Island.
“Sunset Park is one of the most culturally diverse communities in New York City and Brooklyn,” said Yoon. “You’re at the intersection of Asian and Latino communities and it has a great history of being built up by immigrants from all over the world, so what we are trying to do here for the Sunset community and New York City as a whole is support and empower immigrants with legal services, educational opportunities and most importantly, being a community center that is run and directed by young people working in collaboration with adults.”
One of the reasons Yoon decided to take the job was because it felt personal to him. “A lot of the youth work in Atlas really felt familiar to me,” said Yoon, who grew up in Park Slope. “I am the child of immigrants from Korea. I’m a native of Brooklyn. The opportunity to be the director of a center dedicated to immigrant use was really inspiring and powerful for me, seeing how much my parents contributed to me and seeing the opportunity to support other immigrant youth was a great one.”
The nonprofit community center, which offers educational opportunity and leadership development programs, is run and governed by the young people it serves. “What that means is that people ages 14 to 24 have the opportunity to access free legal services for immigration issues and be represented by an attorney here,” Yoon explained. “In addition, they have access to our drop-in center, which is a comfortable community center which has social services and lots of paid opportunities to do outreach in the community.”
Although he’s officially had the position for just a short time, the experience has already been gratifying. “It’s been incredibly inspiring as I’m getting to know the staff. We have a great legal team, a great community engagement and development team,” he said. “The staff is really committed to young people. I’ve been inspired by getting to meet the youth members themselves.”
Although it’s been a positive experience, there have also been obstacles such as President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
“What’s been most challenging so far is how quickly things are changing around us since the election and inauguration,” Yoon said. “My staff and many of our youth members are in a real climate of uncertainty and fear, and our team is working as best as we can to be prepared to be responsive, but these changes — like bans from other countries, come quickly, and deferred action on childhood arrivals, which has benefited many of our immigrant youth members, could be overturned at any time, so what’s really hard is trying to be ready and positive in the face of so much uncertainty and fear.”
For more information, visit www.atlasdiy.org.