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Dragon Kim Foundation Aims to Inspire Youth

The Hammitt x DKF Youth-in-Fashion show could have been an episode from a popular reality design show.

Six young, hopeful and talented aspiring designers showed their beautifully crafted handbags to an audience of fashion insiders while explaining why their design represents the trend of the future.


These teen designers, who presented their products Aug. 19 at the Hammitt flagship store at South Coast Plaza, weren’t referring to the aesthetic design of the fashion accessories they created.

Instead, these teen designers were “upcycling,” the transformation of something old or used into something new, functional and beautiful.


The recycled materials the teen designers used to create purses were donated by Hammitt, a premium handbag company based in Hermosa Beach. The purses not only demonstrated how fashion-forward such accessories could be, but also teens’ deep commitment to sustainability and protecting the environment.

That night, the audience saw more than a collection of craftily created fashion accessories. They saw young people poised, ready and eager to shape the future.

Dragon Kim

The catalyst for the event was the Dragon Kim Foundation, an Irvine-based nonprofit built on the belief that young people have the creativity, fire and energy to change the world. Its mission is to inspire youth to impact their communities while discovering and pursuing their passions.


Behind that mission statement is a story of tragedy transformed into action. In 2015, 14-year-old Dragon Kim, a music student at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), and his best friend Justin Lee, an incoming OCSA student, were killed while camping with the Kim family in Yosemite. A tree branch fell on their tent, killing both boys instantly. The incident made national news.


Dragon’s mother, Grace Tsai Kim, a marketing executive, and father, Daniel Kim, who runs a private equity company, in 2015 founded the Dragon Kim Foundation in Dragon’s honor to carry on his love of life, to make it possible for other young people to pursue their passions, and to help give others access to a bright future.


Dragon was born in the Year of the Dragon, a powerful and benevolent symbol in Asian culture; his parents wanted a name that reflected their Chinese and Korean ancestries.

Grace serves as its co-founder and executive director and Daniel is its co-founder and board chairman.

A Dreams Made Reality

According to his mom, Dragon was most passionate about music. Dragon played 10 instruments: piano, trumpet, alto sax, trombone, bass trombone, tenor sax, baritone, tuba, guitar and clarinet.

As a freshman in high school, he wanted to create a music program that would provide instruments and free, high-quality music instruction for kids who didn’t have the resources for expensive music lessons.

When the Kims started the Dragon Kim Foundation, they decided to make Dragon’s dream a reality by starting a music program.


In addition to providing lessons to underserved children, they also provided high school students as teaching assistants, giving the opportunity to experience the rewards of sharing their love of music.

The program has grown exponentially in the last half decade: the Dragon Kim music program now provides more than 200 children and high school teaching assistants the opportunity to learn and grow through music.

If Money Wasn’t an Issue

The Dragon Kim Foundation has expanded to include a fellowship program that challenges teens to ask themselves: “If money wasn’t an issue, what kind of service project would you launch to help out your community?”


Applicants to the program are encouraged to develop an out-of-the-box answer to that question. To be chosen, the idea needs to have a real, demonstrable social impact. The fellowship program offers a seven-month, hands-on experience that is designed to help those selected—called Dragon Fellows—lead and launch their social impact idea from start to finish.


Dragon Fellows receive three weekends of leadership and “MBA in a box” training, a dedicated mentor to offer advice and help students plan their project and up to $5,000 to bring their “do-good” business idea to life.

Past Dragon Fellows projects have included: The Invisible Condition, a project dedicated to spreading awareness for children with chronic conditions and the treatment options they turn to; Peer Genius, a free website and app designed to help students connect with their school peers to receive academic tutoring; and the creation of a series of mental health workshops to support underprivileged teenage girls through love and self-acceptance.


“Our fellowship program is unique in that we both inspire teen leaders and provide the mentorship, training and financial assistance to bring their project visions to life,” Daniel Kim said.


That’s how the seed for the Hammitt x DFK Youth-in-Fashion show was planted.


Three teams of students—Rylen Schmid, Lutheran High School and Ayah Mohammed, Rosemary Academy; George Iyalomhe and Ayden Quichocho, both of Cypress High School; and Ri Gomez and Gina Buitron, both of Samueli Academy—submitted application proposals develop projects that would promote sustainability, environmentalism and upcycling, and teach others how to help prevent pollution from the overproduction of clothing.


Each applicant was accepted as a Dragon Fellow. In time, these three groups joined together and, with the mentorship of Tony Drockton, CEO, Hammitt, the Hammitt x DKF Youth-in-Fashion show came to fruition.

“The Dragon Kim Foundation has always been one of our favorite partners,” said Drockton. “Dragon Kim’s mentees are not only the future of fashion—they represent a bright future for all of us!”

The Dragon Challenge

Those who are chosen for the Dragon Fellowship are eligible to participate in the Dragon Challenge. The teen leaders of the top projects are given the opportunity to make a live presentation to hundreds of business and community leaders for the chance to receive another $5,000 grant to expand their winning project.


The winner is chosen by an esteemed panel of judges. In past years, the panels have included Mohamed El Erian, chief economic adviser, Allianz, Robyn Williams, founder and CEO of ChoiceCenter Leadership University, and Jonathan Levin, dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business. This year, the Dragon Challenge takes place on Sept. 23 and is sponsored by the medical technology company Masimo, located in Irvine.

With so many young future leaders involved in Dragon Kim, companies across the county are lending their support.

Dragon Kim’s list of corporate sponsors, many of which have employees who act as mentors to the fellowship program participants, include Kingston Technology, Masimo Foundation, Hammitt, ClearFlow, Western Digital, Hanmi Bank, Edward Lifesciences, Capital Group and more.


Current community partners and supporters include Boys & Girls Club of Anaheim, Human Options, Orange County Rescue Mission, Tiger Woods Learning Center, ClearFlow, OCHSA and the Wells Fargo, Disney and Orange County Community Foundations.

Lasting Impact

The Dragon Kim Foundation teaches its “Dragons” to believe in themselves and know that they can change the world for the better. So far, it appears that they are. Since the organization’s inception in 2015, volunteers have given 49,900 hours, $400,000 awarded and 7,600 community members directly impacted.


“The best part of my job is working with these teen leaders, helping them learn and grow,” Grace said. “I love that we’ve created a community of mentors and community partners to support teens to do what they can to change their corners of the world. It’s the best way we can think of to keep Dragon’s spirit alive.” 

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