Lumbini School, Hard-Hit by Pandemic, Still Serving the Community

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Above and below: Generations of kids, some of whom are now community leaders, have attended the Lumbini Child Development Center.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The Lumbini Child Development Center is continuing to serve the Little Tokyo community, but is facing hard times due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Located at Higashi Honganji on Third and Central, the school closed in March under the stay-at-home order and reopened on July 6, adhering to the requirements of the CDC, Health Department, and local community care licensing.

The school is for children 2½ years old (and potty-trained) through kindergarten. Hours of operation have been changed from 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Current enrollment is only 11; normally it would be about 45. Social distancing is practiced throughout the school, which is disinfected constantly. Daily health checks of the students are given by the parents before they arrive and by a teacher when they come to school. Only the students are allowed in the school building.

Students have to bring lunch; the school still provides individually packaged snacks, juice and milk. Under normal circumstances, the lunch menu was cooked by Higashi Honganji members, including items like udon, sushi and miso soup as well as pizza, hot dogs and chow mein.

“Not only were the children exposed to some Japanese culture … The best thing about Lumbini were the first playmates and friends that were made here, even seeing the same friends at the Higashi Honganji Sunday School programs,” said board member Carol Tanita, whose children both attended Lumbini.

Currently, the goal is to make the school as normal as possible for the students.

“At this young age, at a time that they love to share, hug and play together, they are learning to keep to themselves, yet learn how to get ready for elementary school,” said Tanita. “At this age, the students will get used to the face masks and social distancing as the ‘new normal,’ hopefully carrying on to their next school adventure.”

Cost-cutting measures have been taken and the school and temple have applied to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, but Lumbini still faces the possibility of closing temporarily or permanently. Yet the service it provides is more vital than ever as two nearby daycare centers have closed for good.

Since Higashi, like other Buddhist temples, had to cancel its Obon Festival this year, Lumbini did not hold its annual two-day bake sale. It still needs to pay rent to the temple for use of the classrooms and utilities, and the temple itself is unable to reopen.

Similarly, a vicious cycle has been created — if there is no childcare, parents can’t work, and if parents can’t work, they can’t pay for childcare.

Decades of Service

When Higashi Hongonji decided to move to Little Tokyo from Mott Street in Boyle Heights, Rinban Horyu Ito included a daycare facility in the temple’s plans. This idea came from the earlier days of the Mott Street location when Rinban Junjyo Izumida cared for orphans and children of the hard-working neighborhood Issei women.

Lumbini Child Development Center opened its doors in 1977. Since the beginning it has provided care for many of the families who owned businesses or worked in Little Tokyo, making the vision for Lumbini come to fruition.

“So many of the Little Tokyo/Downtown business/restaurant owners, importers and wholesalers, corporations, city and government employees, and families who live or work close to Downtown were so glad and confident that their children were well looked after and close by,” said Tanita, who has worked at Rafu Bussan for many years.

Although the composition of Little Tokyo has changed over time, 43 years later it is still providing care not only for those in Little Tokyo, but for the families in the surrounding areas. Many alumni have gone on to participate together in other community activities, such as basketball and Japanese classical dance.

The school held a reunion on July 7, 2017. Around 200 people came in and out throughout the day, including the second generation of families coming to the school.

Currently, four out of five of the teachers have been at Lumbini for over 10 years. The director, Leslie Nicho, has been there for 34 years, including 15 as a kindergarten teacher.

Leslie Nicho, Lumbini director

An Extended Family

Asked how she got started at Lumbini, Nicho said, “I think it must have been fate. I was looking for employment and Lumbini happened to be looking for a teacher. When I came down to take a look at the school, I realized how familiar the building was. I was coming to Higashi when I was in Jr. YBA. I clearly remember a time, sitting in Room 5 participating in a seminar with Bishop Nori Ito and Bishop Ken Kawahata … It must have given me a comfortable feeling, which I know I would have needed since this was my first teaching job …

“I think I stay at Lumbini not only because I believe our program does provide everything a well-rounded child would need but we somehow makes an impact in their lives. I say this because past students will still drop by to just to say ‘hi.’ I have been introduced to significant others and as time as gone by, their children. Some of the families that have moved away from the Los Angeles will stop by when they happen to be visiting the area. I can honestly say it is greatest feeling to know that they still think of us.

“A huge factor in our success is the teaching staff. I have been fortunate to have very dedicated and caring teachers. We all believe that we are an extended family and the staff treats the children as such. We want the best for them as much as the parents do. Most of the teachers stay at Lumbini anywhere from eight to 15 years. My current staff is going on 14 and 15 years.

“I think it is a two-way street regarding the community. We both need each other and we can give each other a sense of a family community.

“Our annual trick-or-treating in Little Tokyo is a great example. Over 30 merchants participate and everyone looks forward to this event. If I do not contact the merchants close to Halloween, they contact me. We would have more places to go, but we are on a time limit so some of the other merchants are disappointed we cannot visit them too.

“I have always said it is one of my main goals to give the parents peace of mind when they drop their child off at Lumbini. I do not want them to worry or think about their child until it is time to pick them up. And I truly believe we have accomplished this goal.”

How You Can Help

“In order to ride out this pandemic and keep its doors open, we are asking for help from all of our former alumni and their families, our community and social service organizations, corporate partnerships and businesses to help us in spreading the word about Lumbini CDC,” said Tanita. “We are actively seeking new students, and welcome referrals to our school. Preview and visitations can be made by appointment.”

The school is also asking for help in fulfilling its “Love for Lumbini” Wish List. Below are items the school will need over the course of the year to keep its doors open:

Lysol or Target brand aerosol sanitizing spray

Disinfectant wipes

Six energy-efficient floor fans

New hard plastic toys — figures, building type of toys (no wood toys, food or Legos), age-appropriate for pre-school

Blunt-tip scissors

Crayola brand crayons, large and regular size

Crayola brand colored pencils

Triangle pencils

Color markers, thick and thin

Sharpies, thick and thin

Individual bottles of school glue

Large pencil erasers

Individual pencil/utility boxes large enough to fit school supplies (each student has to have his/her own set of supplies)

Painter’s tape (beige or light color) to label all things

Paper plates (for art and craft projects)

Ziploc or Slider gallon storage bags

Color copy paper (any colors are welcome)

White copy paper

Printer ink: Brother — LC 101 LC 103; Canon — GPR 36

Gift cards to Amazon, Office Depot or Target

Most importantly, donations in any amount would be greatly appreciated. A PayPal account has been established under Lumbini Child Development Center, and checks can be made out to Lumbini CDC.

For more information regarding the wish list and fundraising campaign, visit http://lumbinicdc.org or contact:

Elaine Barbod (Lumbini and temple board member), [email protected]

Carol Tanita, [email protected]

Leslie Nicho, [email protected]

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