Mike Watanabe, MSW, president and CEO of the Asian American Drug Abuse Program Inc., received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on May 21 from California State University, Northridge.
Watanabe was born in Hawaii and grew up in Venice. He survived the drug epidemic of the 1960s and two and a half years in the U.S. Army with a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief. Upon his return, his growing concern with the impact of drugs on his friends and community guided his return to school.
He completed his undergraduate education at CSUN in sociology. He entered the MSW program at UCLA with an National Institute of Mental Health scholarship for substance abuse and graduated in 1975. During his field placement, he was introduced to AADAP. Watanabe began work at AADAP in 1975 and has continued for 42 years. He started as a counselor in the TC (Therapeutic Community) and progressed through the ranks in several positions. He has served as president and chief executive officer for the past 35 years.
During his tenure as the CEO, he has led the growth and development of the agency from a moderate-sized agency to a large, comprehensive service agency serving a significant portion of Los Angeles County through 10 service sites. He is past president of Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), a Los Angeles County-based consortium of over 45 community-based agencies serving the Asian Pacific community, and chaired its Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Committee for 12 years.
He has served as a member of the Los Angeles County Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Commission for 16 years. He chaired the Asian and Pacific Islander Constituent Committee, an advisory body to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, for eight years.
He is a founding board member of the National Asian Pacific Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA), made up of drug and alcohol agencies and representative membership from over 150 organizations serving Asian Pacific communities around the country. In the course of these activities, he has provided workshops, seminars, testimony, and consultation at local jurisdictions through national venues.
His work in community service and AADAP’s support of early API community organizations under his leadership have left a lasting impact on the scope and scale of API nonprofits and Asian American services today. Watanabe holds a BA in sociology/social work from CSUN (June ’73) and an MSW from the School of Social Welfare, UCLA (March ’76).
The mission of AADAP is to “change lives and save families.” Watanabe has continued to provide comprehensive substance abuse and social services for the Asian Pacific Islanders and other diverse communities. A true grassroots pioneer, he has shown genuine leadership and commitment to community and social services.