Yes, We CAN: Youth Learn to Become Leaders


Track 1 (community engagement) participants. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

Track 2 (community leadership) participants. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

Kizuna and JACL Pacific Southwest District celebrated the completion of the Youth CAN (Community Action Network) program on Tuesday at Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo.

Held from June to August, Youth CAN is a 10-week summer program that gathers high school students every Wednesday evening and instills in them the importance of community involvement, cultural awareness, and leadership development.

Participants network with community leaders, gain knowledge and tools to be successful in community service, and put their skills to the test by brainstorming and implementing projects developed by their college-age supervisors.

The group was divided into Track 1 (community engagement), coordinated by Marissa Kitazawa of JACL, and Track 2 (community leadership), coordinated by Craig Ishii of Kizuna.

Youth CAN supervisors (from left) Lindsey Sugimoto, Courtney Takeda, Megan Ono, Molly Serizawa, Courtney Sakamoto. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

“Each track had three community projects in which students were separated into groups to work on a specific project,” explained Molly Serizawa, one of the supervisors. “Track 1 created videos chronicling the lives and involvement of three extraordinary individual community leaders.”

The videos were titled “Tokuji Yoshihashi: 100th Battalion”; “Alan Nishio: Passing It On”; and “Traci Kato Kiriyama: Art and Voices.”

Track 2 was also separated into three groups. Serizawa and Megan Ono’s group was in charge of Tuesday’s “Culmination” event. “Our group of six students covered everything from invitation graphics, guest lists, planning, organization, and coordination with sponsor organizations and Track 1 of the Youth CAN program,” Serizawa said. “The objective of Track 2 is to provide high school students with the means to directly apply the skills they’ve learned to the community. Culmination provided them with this hands-on experience, as they were the ones solely responsible for the event.

“One of the other student groups created informative web pages focused on the Little Tokyo community, ranging from scholarship opportunities to events throughout the Japanese American community. The information they collected and compiled is now showcased on the ‘Kizuna — Uniting Nikkei for the Future’ website.

“The third student group created a virtual tour map of Little Tokyo, in which the students provided voice-overs for some of the prominent buildings, businesses and locations within Little Tokyo, each attached with significant personal meaning to the students. This virtual tour map can also be viewed on the Kizuna website.”

Alan Nishio (right) of the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council was among those profiled in student videos. To his right is National JACL President David Kawamoto. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

“The Youth CAN program is especially important to this community because it builds a pipeline for the next generation to step and provides training and opportunities for future leaders,” said Ishii. “As our culmination very clearly showed, these aren’t just kids, they are passionate, knowledgeable and energetic leaders who are truly going to move our community into the future.”

Kitazawa added, “It’s been such an honor to have had the opportunity to work with the Youth CAN participants this year. These students really deserve so much more credit for all of the hard work they’ve put in this summer. They have consistently amazed me with their energy, passion and dedication. As a co-coordinator of the program, the students have been a true inspiration to me. Social justice is more than just about lobbying and politics, it’s also about people and making connections to other people. I hope these participants can continue to be advocates for social change. They really are the future leaders for our community.”

At the culmination event, Michael Taheri spoke for Track 1, Alex Kanegawa spoke for Track 2, and Timothy Toda and Kimberly Hara of Track 2 gave opening and closing remarks. Youth-produced videos were shown, and certificates were presented to the graduates:

Track 1 — Nina Fukuma, Alec Hasegawa, Alyssa Himeno, Kristen Himeno, Brandon Isa, Taylor Kariya, Cody “Hawk” Kuwata, Eva Matsutani, Yvette Niwa, Alex Poltash (not pictured), Louie Shirase, Michael Taheri, Sarah Takemoto, Kara Tanaka, Ryan Tokeshi

Track 2 — Adam Arnot, Corey Awakuni, Kasey Furutani, Kaitlin Hara, Kimberly Hara, Satomi Honjiyo (not pictured), Elena Inamine, Alex Kanegawa, Laurel Kitada, Mitchell Loo, Alina Nakano, April Nishinaka, Rena Ogino, Ariane Sadanaga, Scott Shima, Matthew Sugimoto, Timothy Toda, Ryan Togashi

Also recognized were the program’s supervisors: Mark Hara (not pictured), Megan Ono, Lindsey Sugimoto, Courtney Sakamoto, Molly Serizawa, Andrew Takahashi (not pictured), Courtney Takeda

For more information on the program, visit


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