By Joel Hall
"Chuseok," a traditional Korean festival of the harvest, occurs much earlier in the year than it's American equivalent, Thanksgiving.
On Friday, The Loving Heart volunteer group and the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center gave center members a chance to experience Thanksgiving together -- Korean style.
The third annual Loving Heart Korean Harvest Festival took place Friday afternoon at the Griswell Senior Center, located at 2300 Highway 138 E., in Jonesboro. The free celebration included performances of traditional Korean music, dancing, and drumming, as well of a feast of Korean and American foods.
According to Loving Heart Director Young Hui Denham, the mostly Korean volunteer group visits nursing homes and helps feed seniors and the homeless in Clayton, Henry, and Fayette counties. She said the Korean Harvest Festival serves as a way to introduce more people to the work of Loving Heart, as well as to Korean culture in general.
"By sharing things, we get to meet new people and make new friends," Denham said. "We get homesick and we miss our families [in Korea] and by seeing these people, it gives us warmth. We like to show and share it [our culture]. This allows us to open our minds and get closer to each other."
The festival featured remarks from several dignitaries, including Clayton County Senior Services Director Mary Byrd, Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, and Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless Executive Director Elisabeth Omilami.
Members of the Chattahoochee High School Korean Arts Club performed traditional dancing and drumming, while musician Soon Hyung Yoo played American and Korean folk songs on the "gayakum," a traditional string instrument similar to the Japanese koto.
Melissa Myers-Bristol, program coordinator at the Griswell Senior Center, said the Korean Harvest Festival has become one of the center's most popular events. She said it helps bring "different heritages together.
"We have a very diverse group at Griswell," said Myers-Bristol. "We try to make sure we are offering diverse programs for our seniors. They enjoy seeing the different entertainment, as well as the food.
"It's great for our members, because it allows them to be more understanding," she said. "They learn that there are other people who have a heritage they want to maintain."
Korean traditions were not the only traditions on center stage during the festival. A talent show had seniors clogging, performing James Brown dance moves, and belting rhythm and blues classics for the chance to win a 19-inch, flat-screen television.
Elaine White, a Morrow resident and Griswell Senior Center member, said the festival was an "enlightening" experience.
"It shows you things you can do at a certain age," White said. "It shows that we are all one race ... that we can all blend together and have a good time. That's a good thing."