ABOUT Y. BILL WATANABE, Executive Director, Little Tokyo Service Center, Inc.
Bill Watanabe was born in an American concentration camp called Manzanar in California, and is the son of first generation Japanese immigrants who came from Japan and during the 1930’s settled in the San Fernando Valley to grow and sell flowers in the then-booming wholesale flower market.
After a short stint as a mechanical engineer, Bill attended the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo for one year and then received his MSW from UCLA’s Graduate School of Social Welfare in 1972.
During the social upheavals of the 1970’s, he helped form and joined an Asian American Christian urban commune, and tried the great social experiment of communal living, living and working together, sharing all resources in the same mode and spirit as the first-century Christians so aptly described in the Book of Acts in the New Testament of the Bible.
In January 1980, he was selected to be the Executive Director of the newly-formed Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC), and charged to develop a multi-purpose social service agency that could meet the broad needs of the Japanese American community that centered around the ethnic community of Little Tokyo. There was, in January of 1980, no office, no budget, no staff (except Bill) and no programs, but there was an abundance of vision, hope, and optimism as Bill and the Board of Directors set about to start something new.
Over the years, the program began to grow and become established. Through funding from the Japanese American community, and from various government sources such as the City, County, State and Federal grants, and various foundation and corporate donors, LTSC eventually began to fulfill the mission of becoming a comprehensive multi-purpose service agency that not only served Japanese and Japanese Americans, but also anyone who came to or called the Center asking for assistance.
From one staff person, LTSC now employs nearly 150 paid staff, most being fulltime and many being multi-lingual and multi-cultural. There are many programs now, providing services for all ages, such as childcare and youth, family counseling and parenting classes, affordable housing and business development, services for the elderly, and computer classes for seniors and non-English speaking clients.
Bill has been instrumental in changing the face of Little Tokyo, which has been a part of the downtown landscape since the first Japanese immigrant opened a business in Los Angeles over 125 years ago.
Not only has LTSC become a model agency in the social services realm, but the agency has also successfully developed high-profile projects in the areas of:
Also, Bill has fostered a number of efforts that have shaped the community and impacted the policy landscape for Los Angeles: