The Nicest Place in Oklahoma: Colefax Hill Neighborhood in Tulsa

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"The Value of Honest Work"

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One family turns pandemic lemons into lemonade of kindness.

Bong Kang—Master Kang to his taekwondo students—temporarily closed his martial arts and fitness center when Oklahoma’s stay at home order went into effect. His sons, Brody, 17, and Owen, 15, juggled online classes, Bible study, and exercise, while Kang taught his students over Zoom. It was like life for a lot of families in America during the early days of the pandemic. But Bong felt like his strong, healthy family could do more to help their neighbors in the Colefax Hill section of Tulsa where they lived, so he asked his boys what they thought they should do.

We can mow lawns, they suggested. They thought that might be a big help to neighbors who were older or had health issues that made them more prone to complications from COVID-19. The boys reached out to the neighborhood’s housing association, who gave their plan the green light.

The family of five (Bong and his wife, Valerie Kang, also have a three-month-old baby) has lived in Colefax Hill for three years. It’s the kind of place with windy streets that connect in unpredictable ways to outsiders but that local kids on bikes know better than Google Maps, where cute brick houses built on slopes are fronted by manicured lawns and topiaries.

Karen Simonson is one of the neighbors who took the boys up on their offer. “They are the sweetest people ever,” Simonson told Reader’s Digest. “They are, obviously, instilling in their boys that taking care of your neighbors is important.”

Courtesy Valerie Kang
Bong Kang, center, with sons, Brodie and Owen.

The trio cut various neighbors’ lawns and followed social distance parameters. Kang made sure that his boys didn’t ask for payment for their service and when people offered money, they turned it down.

“It changed my two kids’ lives,” Kang told Reader’s Digest. “Each time we loaded up the back of the truck they yelled, ‘Go team Kang!’”

Kang is the owner of a satellite dojang, or training hall, called Kang’s Taekwondo, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. His father started the school in 1971. Along with serving as a role model for his sons, Kang mentors his students and other children. “I want to lead the next generation and be a good example,” said Kang. “Be a light in the middle of the darkness.” He plans scavenger hunts, fishing trips, and other activities, trying to keep kids busy doing something other than playing video games.

The Nomination

This has taken place in our south Tulsa neighborhood: Our next door neighbors own a martial arts facility, which has been “out of business” because of the COVID-19 virus. To further complicate matters, they have two boys, approximately 16 and 13 (the younger is a special needs child) and they have just had a new baby. As everyone was trying to “regroup” from his disaster, they put out a notice on line to our neighborhood that their boys would mow lawns for free. (They mowed our yard before they even sent out the message to the neighborhood. This “job” was not just the boys– this was the two boys and their “dad”. However, my husband told the father that we would like to hire them for the summer to mow and trim our yard. (We’ve had a lawn care company for many years, but thought this would be helpful to the family during these tough times.) They will not allow the boys to take payment for their services. They are, obviously, instilling in their boys that taking care of your neighbor is important. However, it has made it somewhat difficult when we, too, want to help our neighbor.

While we are “senior citizens”, we are very fortunate that my husband works for Tulsa County and is an “essential” worker. Though that is a mixed blessing, because he is working everyday and could, potentially, be exposed to COVID-19, we at least know that we have an income. Our community is divided, as I imagine most are, between people who think think this situation is being over blown and the people who are fearful of leaving their homes. I’m sure this is happening in every community.

Our community, as a whole, is extremely giving. In fact, several years ago I read that people in Oklahoma donated a huge percentage of their annual incomes to either their church or other charities, compared to the rest of the country. We are the buckle of the Bible belt, so that isn’t surprising. Our neighborhood site, which is made up of various neighborhoods in our community, has a section where people can list items for sale. However, this site also offers items for FREE. It is amazing the items that are listed at curb side items. Some times I look at these items and am stunned that people just put these items out for whoever might need them. It is truly inspirational. In addition, on this same site, there are frequently posts for someone helping a particular family who needs assistance. The community rallies behind these pleas and delivers needed items to either the family or the group of people who have joined together to help this family. It is wonderful to see the community come together for a common goal–helping another family who is in need of assistance.

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