A Catalyst for Building Community - Little Tokyo Service Center

A Catalyst for Building Community

A Catalyst for Building Community

LTSC’s Vision for Comprehensive Community Development in Little Tokyo


When the pandemic hit, Setsuko realized that she was disconnected from her community. Despite being a long-term resident in LTSC’s Casa Heiwa apartments (affordable housing in Little Tokyo), she barely knew her neighbors. As a renowned artist, she was typically busy traveling for shows and workshops, with Little Tokyo as her home base between trips. Sheltering in place, feeling isolated and lonely, Setsuko craved connection.

Thankfully during lockdown, Carol Zou, LTSC’s artist in residence, organized resident-sourced art projects as a way to foster neighborly connection amongst the seniors and families living in Casa Heiwa. When Carol asked Setsuko to join a resident art project, a path opened for Setsuko to get more involved with LTSC and her Little Tokyo community. As a monolingual Japanese-speaking senior, Setsuko initially felt intimidated to put herself out there to meet new people. So, she leaned into her strengths. “With art, you don’t need to know each other’s language to understand each other. You can express your feelings through art,” she explained. 

The resident art project created decorative window clings at the newly opened Terasaki Budokan (LTSC’s community facility dedicated to serving the local neighborhood, youth and seniors, and reconnecting Nikkei families to Little Tokyo). The art installation prompted Setsuko to visit the Budokan facility more frequently, where she socialized with neighbors and community members, eventually joining regular Budokan zumba classes with new neighborhood friends.

Then, Setsuko was recruited to join Little Tokyo Neighbors, a diverse, multi-ethnic resident organizing group from LTSC’s affordable housing buildings that advocates for positive change in the community. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I joined,” admitted Setsuko. “But it seemed like a good way to get out and meet more neighbors.”

Her work with Little Tokyo Neighbors then connected her to the Mi CASA program, LTSC’s after school program at Budokan serving diverse local and low-income youth. Setsuko led a fiber dyeing workshop for the Mi CASA summer program, demonstrating techniques and guiding the youth through successes and mishaps. It was a major hit, and she’s looking forward to the next opportunity.

Through LTSC’s network of housing, community space and programs, Setsuko was able to break through the language barrier and connect with her community. Now, she greets various neighbors and friends when she’s out and about in Little Tokyo, and often attends events around the neighborhood. She was even commissioned to create artwork for LTSC’s nengajyo (New Year’s greeting card) and other fundraising projects. For Setsuko, Little Tokyo is now so much more than a place she stays between trips—it’s home.

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