By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Asian Rehabilitation Service Inc. (ARS), which turns 40 this year, held a reception fundraiser on Aug. 31 in the Garden Room of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo.
ARS is a workforce development non-profit focused on serving persons with disabilities, including those with limited English proficiency. Founders Sachio Kano and Seigo Hayashi had a vision of enabling Asian Americans with disabilities to lead productive lives, rather than being hidden from society.
ARS was established in 1972 in Little Tokyo and for its first few years was headquarterd in the basement of the old Union Church, which is now Union Center for the Arts. It has moved a few times over the years but is still in the vicinity of Little Tokyo at 1701 E. Washington Blvd.
The event was hosted by ARS Chairperson Donna Ogawa and Vice Chair Ben Kim. The agency’s new CEO, Brad Bagasao, Ph.D., was introduced.
LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara, a candidate for City Council, said, “ARS has such an important role … It’s wonderful that you have an organization that meets certain needs of the community … It’s a cause that is so worthwhile.”
Superior Court Judge Cynthia Loo commented, “What ARS is doing is really fabulous … It’s a wonderful organization which is doing such great work.”
Mike Fong, East Area director for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, delivered greetings on behalf of the City of Los Angeles.
Kim presented distinguished service awards to former ARS Chairperson Marguerite Ave Womack, who “stayed on during … really tough times,” and current Deputy Director Si Ho, who, when ARS was trying to find a new CEO, was willing to “step up and be a leader … when our organization needed it the most.” Former Chairperson Guy Leemhuis was also honored but was unable to attend.
Staff member Kim Daniels was given special recognition for overseeing ARS’ government contracts. ARS has employees who work off-site at federal courthouses in Los Angeles and Pasadena, the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles, and the Social Security Administration in Pasadena.
Pegasus Financial Group, represented by owners Ali Movahedi and Nicole Taban, was thanked for helping to stabilize ARS financially.
Former CEO Tom Chung commented, “It’s really good to see ARS climbing that ladder again … I’m glad to see a lot of the new people brought on board. Looks like a good crew.” The efforts of the “caring board” and “excellent staff” can be seen “on the faces of many of the clients,” he said.
Diane Poon, who was a board member for over 20 years and is now on the advisory committee, said, “I’m very glad that I’m part of ARS. My heart always will be with ARS.” She added that it was good to see the agency on “the right track.”
Several ARS clients performed Hawaiian dances as a group. Ogawa introduced them by saying that they had practiced for months and were “really looking forward to entertaining all of you.”
The event also included a silent auction and music by Mia Yamamoto and Kawika Dacoscos.
Photos by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo