Over 30 years ago, Little Tokyo Service Center was started by representatives of various Japanese American groups who wanted to form a multipurpose social service center to be housed in the new Japanese American Cultural and Community Center building. They chose Bill Watanabe as the executive director to lead this effort.
From this staff of one, LTSC now employs over 140 people who are dedicated to the new expanded mission of helping people and building community. During Watanabe’s tenure as executive director, LTSC has helped tens of thousands of clients with an array of programs serving those as young as 3 months old, to youth, to working adults, to seniors.
LTSC provide childcare for over 170 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in two centers and in family childcare homes, provides after-school activities and tutoring to middle school and high school youth, and case management and counseling for seniors, families and individuals in six languages.
LTSC has renovated and upgraded three buildings in Little Tokyo’s historic district — the San Pedro Firm Building, Union Center for the Arts and the Far East Building.
In 1996, LTSC built Casa Heiwa, the first new family-oriented housing project in the Little Tokyo area in over 70 years, which provides affordable housing to 100 families and seniors.
LTSC partners with other community-based organizations to build affordable housing throughout Los Angeles and has completed 19 projects with 760 units of affordable housing and approximately 125,000 square feet of community facility space.
After the 1992 unrest, when very few people ventured to Little Tokyo after dark or on weekends, Watanabe and LTSC began the L.A. Tofu Festival, a two-day fundraiser that ran for 12 years, serving unique tofu delicacies and entertaining thousands of people with multiethnic music.
Today, LTSC is in the middle of a capital campaign to bring Budokan of Los Angeles, a multi-court sports facility for basketball, volleyball, martial arts, and other community uses, to Little Tokyo.
After this distinguished and long career, Watanabe has decided to retire from LTSC at the end of June. On Saturday, May 19, LTSC will commemorate his retirement with a luncheon.
“The lunch will celebrate Bill’s career and will give us a chance to thank him for his service to the Little Tokyo neighborhood and the Los Angeles community. We hope everyone will join us as we wish Bill a very happy and well-deserved retirement,” says Alan Nishio, president of LTSC’s Board of Directors.