The Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM) has its origins in the Karen Community of Minnesota (KCM), a volunteer-led organization established in 2003 by Karen community leaders in Minnesota. KCM served as the community’s governing body, helping newly arrived Karen refugees in the Twin Cities maintain their culture, elect community leaders, and receive assistance beyond the initial resettlement period. As more refugees from Burma arrived in Minnesota, the leaders realized they could no longer effectively respond to needs solely through volunteers. They determined that they needed a Karen-led organization to dedicate greater attention to the community and leverage outside support.
At that time, there was no exclusively Karen-oriented social services agency in the Twin Cities, though Vietnamese Social Services (VSS) did express an interest in serving the Karen and had Karen interpreters available to assist clients. In 2005, members of KCM began a three-year training program under VSS to become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. VSS provided training in social services, computers, and staff management and helped KCM establish their Board of Directors in 2007. KCM was formally registered as a 501(c)(3) organization in the U.S. in 2008. However, KCM’s leaders quickly realized that this status would restrict their ability to send support to families in Burma and Thailand as well as in the U.S. Community leaders and the Board of Directors therefore decided to separate the newly formed nonprofit organization from KCM in order to keep KCM as an unincorporated, volunteer-based association. The Board of Directors and community leaders renamed the nonprofit organization to Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM) to distinguish it from KCM.
Months after securing 501(c)(3) status in December 2008, KOM was awarded two state and one federal grants that all went into effect on October 1, 2009. With these grants, KOM established its corporate headquarters in the heart of the Karen community on Jackson Street in St. Paul’s North End neighborhood. KOM hired and trained four paid staff, some of whom had been involved as volunteers since the beginning of the informal association. Since then, KOM has greatly expanded to better fulfill the growing needs of the community. KOM facilitates employment, social and education opportunities to over 3,000 clients each year and has built numerous partnerships with Twin Cities-based organizations and institutions. In late 2014, KOM opened an office in Marshall to serve the growing number of Karen people living and working there. In March 2015, KOM moved to a new office in Roseville off of Rice Street. Today, KOM employs 24 paid staff and 2 AmeriCorps members. KOM’s success is due to dedicated staff and community leaders, our partners in the public and private sectors, our funders and donors, and all who have allowed KOM to expand our reach.