THROUGH THE FIRE: Giving Birth — The Asian Pacific Community Fund

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By BILL WATANABE

Starting something from scratch and helping it to grow is a special feeling. Taking an idea and making it real is a great adventure – like having a baby and nurturing it as it grows.

I guess the success stories we hear about the most are like the one about two guys named Steve who started a computer business in a garage and made it one of the biggest companies in the world.

In the nonprofit world, there are similar examples. One person in the 1970s wrote an open letter to a British newspaper calling for the creation of a human rights organization – and like a match igniting a fire, the worldwide human rights organization called Amnesty International was born.

Or the time a mother called a meeting of other mothers at her kitchen table and formed a group called Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which has helped to reduce drunk driving deaths by 50%!

When I was in graduate school studying social work in 1970, people ruminated about forming an Asian Fund to help raise funds for the Asian American community, but the ideas never went anywhere. Fifteen years later, in 1985, I attended a conference in San Francisco on the topic of worksite employee giving programs (like the United Way) and the idea of an Asian American United Way began to take shape in my head.

I convened a meeting of some members of the Asian Pacific Planning Council (called APPCON) and convinced them this was a good idea and asked each organization to contribute money to help get the Asian Fund incorporated and off the ground.

An image from APCF’s 30th anniversary video.

In 1990, the Asian Pacific Community Fund (APCF) became a tax-exempt nonprofit organization and ready to raise funds for the community. We gained access to the 80,000 employees of the County of Los Angeles, and then later, the employees of the City and the federal employees in this region. Since those early days, the APCF worksite employee giving campaigns has raised millions of dollars – these are funds that individual organizations could not have raised on their own.

However, the APCF struggled to raise enough money for its own operations and the staffing was bare-bones; the part-time staff were all dedicated and hard-working but it was a struggle for APCF to grow.

Around 2007, the APCF Board decided to “shoot the works” and use up our staffing budget to hire a full-time executive director. Even though the APCF had only enough funds for less than a year of staff time, an intrepid new-hire named Debra Fong took on the challenge to grow the organization and to do it quickly. Through her hard work and inspired efforts, the APCF added new programs such as Giving Circles, donor-advised funds, scholarship grants, and began to offer fundraising trainings for APIA nonprofits.

Debra put APCF “on the map” in our local world of philanthropy. Today, Ms. Chun-Yen Chen, who took over for Debra last year as the executive director, has taken the APCF to even greater accomplishments.

On Aug. 27, 2020, I was honored to participate in the 30th anniversary of the official founding of the Asian Pacific Community Fund. It was a celebration of 30 years of giving and helping the community, of growth and of looking to a brighter future. You can view the 30th anniversary by googling “APCF 30th anniversary” – it is less than an hour long and describes the history and programs of APCF.

If you participate in worksite employee giving campaigns, please remember the Asian Pacific Community Fund. If you would like to become a donor or a recipient through one of the APCF programs, please contact them and let them know.

Like a proud father, I am happy for how the APCF has grown from an idea into a living and thriving organization that helps to bring communities together and to provide resources so that those in need can be better served. That kind of feeling is as good as it gets!

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Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near Downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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