“Positive Change for People and Places” was the theme as the Little Tokyo Service Center, a Community Development Corporation (LTSC), celebrated its 35th anniversary dinner at JW Marriott on Nov. 4 with more than 600 guests.
Honorees included longtime supporters of the community Bruce Saito, director of the California Conservation Corps, and Nancy Matsui, account manager for American Airlines.
Saito, who has dedicated nearly 40 years of service to the California Conservation Corps and Los Angeles Conservation Corps, is an enthusiastic supporter of the Budokan of Los Angeles Project and has been an advisor and resource to the Sustainable Little Tokyo initiative. He is also a board member of L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust, Friends of Manzanar, California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, and L.A. River Revitalization Corporation.
He was introduced by former LTSC Executive Director Bill Watanabe.
Matsui, the face of American Airlines to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, began her tenure with AA 35 years ago. She has served on LTSC’s Board of Governors since 2002 and chaired the 30th anniversary dinner. She also serves on the Board of Governors of the Japanese American National Museum and the Board of Directors of Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, U.S.-Japan Council, and Heads Up Youth Foundation.
She was introduced by LTSC President Debra Nakatomi.
The Corporate Citizen Award went to Citi, represented by Sonia Rahm, director of Citi Community Capital.
Special recognition went to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), who was unable to attend but addressed the audience in a video. He was introduced by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).
“For 35 years we have collaborated with Little Tokyo stakeholders to preserve and strengthen our home – Little Tokyo – one of the last remaining Japantowns in the nation,” said Executive Director Dean Matsubayashi.
In 35 years, LTSC has served tens of thousands of seniors, youth, and families to fill a need for culturally sensitive services such as senior care and after school programming. With its community development corporation, it has worked with 15 community organizations to build more than 850 units of affordable housing.
At the end of 2016, LTSC will break ground on one of the last major community-driven capital projects in Little Tokyo, the Budokan of Los Angeles, a multi-purpose recreational center aimed to nurture and foster community identity and cultural preservation with arts and sports programming like basketball, volleyball, and martial arts.
Since fundraising began in 2011, LTSC has raised more than 80 percent of the total budget and is now embarking on a capital campaign to raise the remaining $5 million needed to bring this project to fruition. During the 35th anniversary dinner, long-time board member Alan Nishio led a live solicitation for support and raised over $160,000. The audience was given a computer-generated virtual tour of the finished facility.
Matsubayashi said, “You might ask, what does this all add up to? For us it’s pretty simple. It’s about a belief that everyone, every single person, deserves the opportunity to lead healthy, independent lives — and a place to call home.”
Entertainment was provided by singer Nancy Sekizawa (“Atomic Nancy”) and musician Benny Yee, who performed Nobuko Miyamoto’s song “American Made.”
Serving as emcee was artist and activist traci kato-kiriyama. The event also included a silent auction and a raffle drawing for American Airlines tickets, assisted by the 2015 Nisei Week Court.