LTSCene – March 2021 - Little Tokyo Service Center

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LTSCene Monthly Newsletter

March 2021 Issue

woman unloading boxes from car

For 40 years, through many obstacles, we’ve worked to create positive change in our community. Through this recent wave of hardship and anti-Asian sentiment, we remain steadfast. In this issue, we go back to the basics of our mission – helping those in need.

Statement in Response to the Shooting of Asian Women in Atlanta

The recent uptick in anti-Asian violence has been heavy for our community – but we are resilient. LTSC renews our commitment to uplift communities of color, fight for equitable policies and celebrate diversity. Click below to read our statement in response to the shooting of Asian women in Atlanta.

a big step forward for community control of first street north

Earlier this month, Councilmember Kevin de Leon introduced a motion to City Council to expand the footprint of the Go For Broke project (LTSC’s affordable housing project in partnership with Go For Broke National Education Center “GFBNEC”). Yesterday, March 23, 2021, City Council voted to approve the expanded ground lease – giving LTSC and GFBNEC site control of a large parcel of the First Street North block. 

The expansion covers the entire western part of the block along Judge John Aiso Street, as well as the northern section on Temple Street (over 2.5 acres). This allows our project to nearly triple its original 77 unit plan to include 220+ units of affordable and permanent supportive housing, including housing for veterans experiencing homelessness. The project also includes significant and much-needed ground floor commercial and community space for legacy businesses, arts, green space and more.

This expanded ground lease is a huge step forward in securing community control for the First Street North block in Little Tokyo – a campaign that’s been in the works for many years. As anti-Asian violence soars in our nation, this reclamation of land through self-determination is a victory in our fight to build a strong and sustainable Little Tokyo by and for the community and its stakeholders.

This emotional victory was years in the making and we’re grateful to all our community partners that helped make this happen – especially the Little Tokyo Community Council, Sustainable Little Tokyo, and the stakeholder businesses and cultural institutions on the First Street block.

“This is something the community and our partners have been fighting for across many years – we’re not fully there yet, but it is a huge step. I want to send a truly heartfelt thanks to Councilmember Kevin de Leon for his bold leadership in introducing this motion to City Council. From his days in the California Legislature, he has long been a champion for our community.” said Erich Nakano, Executive Director of LTSC.

breaking barriers to vaccine access
LTSC & Wesley Health Centers Partner to Vaccinate Seniors in Little Tokyo

senior receives vaccination from nurse

For vulnerable senior populations, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is trickier than it seems. Hundreds of seniors in Little Tokyo don’t speak English, don’t have access to technology and don’t drive, creating high barriers to make an appointment for a vaccine. To help resolve this unmet health need, LTSC partnered with Wesley Health Centers to bring a mobile vaccination clinic to Little Tokyo, hosted at the new Terasaki Budokan facility. “I don’t have family nearby to take me to a clinic,” said Mariko Herron, a 17 year resident of the Little Tokyo Towers. “So I was thrilled when LTSC reached out about the vaccine clinic at Budokan.” 

157 seniors were inoculated with their first dose in February and received their second dose on March 16, 2021. LTSC provided in-language support every step of the way from pre-registration to day-of check-in to escorting seniors to-and-from the clinic. 

Yoshiko Takahashi, a 10-year resident of Little Tokyo Towers explains, “it was such a relief to be able to take my husband to the Little Tokyo vaccine clinic since it’s such a short walking distance from my home. It would’ve been a great challenge to take him elsewhere since he is in a wheelchair. I was so impressed by how smooth and efficient the clinic was. There was even a staff person directing people at the cross walk by my apartment. I appreciated all the thoughtful details of the clinic,”

“From the location to timing, having everything in Little Tokyo was very convenient. LTSC staff was very supportive at each step. It was very smooth and someone was always available. Even though I understand English, it was a great comfort to have the vaccine process and medical jargon explained to me in Japanese,” said Masayoshi Sasaki, a 6-year resident of Little Tokyo Towers.

sustaining our small businesses
LTSC Helps Secure over $5M in Small Business Aid

small business counselor with rafu bussan staff

This month marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown. In Little Tokyo, small businesses (especially legacy businesses) have been struggling to stay afloat. LTSC’s small business assistance program kicked into high gear, helping businesses with everything from navigating tricky loan applications and launching digital marketing strategies to transitioning to e-commerce.

“Little Tokyo Service Center has been a great help throughout this COVID pandemic. Their knowledge of the government assistance and local programs were a great help to our store. Their kindness with helping me navigate the internet in applying for loans and social networking were greatly appreciated!” – Mary Onoue, Kuragami Florist

“We at Rafu Bussan are eternally grateful for the guidance and resources we’ve been given from LTSC’s small business counselors. Traditionally, we have been a hands-on retail establishment, but with the pandemic, it forced us to do more online marketing and sales. Without the advice and expertise from LTSC it would be very difficult for us, who are not tech savvy, to transition and keep the business afloat.” – Carol Tanita, Rafu Bussan

One year later, we’re proud to say our small business counselors have helped secure over $5 million in grants, forgivable loans and other funds to help support the small businesses that are essential to our community’s fabric. 

One such funding source is the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund set up in collaboration with our community partner, the Little Tokyo Community Council. This fund targets small businesses in Little Tokyo that typically don’t qualify for the existing relief support in the restaurant sector. 

“Thank you so much to LTCC’s Small Biz Relief Fund and Mariko Lochridge [LTSC Small Business Counselor] for always looking out for the community, this grant will really help us stay open in Little Tokyo!” – Darin Maki, CRFT by Maki

YOU can help support small businesses in Little Tokyo by donating to the LT Small Business Relief Fund!

celebrating social work month
An Interview with Ayumi Omoto, Mental Health Coordinator

Ayumi Omoto working with a clientMarch is Social Work Month! 40 years ago, LTSC was founded as a social service agency providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services in the Little Tokyo community. Today, we provide a wide array of services throughout the SoCal region in over 5 languages. This Social Work Month we’d like to highlight our dedicated team of social workers, who tirelessly provide vital support for our community.

Tell us how you became a social worker, and why this field is important to you.

Upon graduating from college with psychology and East Asian Studies majors, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do, except for the fact that I wanted to find a profession where I could help people.  I was very fortunate to be introduced to Bill Watanabe [LTSC’s Founding Executive Director] by someone my parents knew, and I was invited to volunteer.  From there, I began to learn what social work was all about.  I appreciated the fact that I found a profession where I could pursue my passion of helping those in need, while also utilizing my bilingual and bicultural skills. 


What is your role at LTSC, and what services/support do you provide? 

I am the Mental Health Coordinator at LTSC.  There are 10 of us on the mental health team – although most of the staff work on multiple programs.  We provide bilingual/bicultural mental health information and referral, mental health therapy and rehabilitation, as well as case management services under our program.  Currently, we are able to provide services in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and English.  As the coordinator, I do the initial intake for potential cases, manage the mental health contracts and reporting, have a few cases of my own, and provide supervision, support and guidance to the mental health staff.  


What types of cases/clients do you work with?

We provide the majority of our services to lower income individuals 50 years and over who reside throughout Southern California.  We provide treatment to individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.  We also provide preventative mental health services to individuals dealing with various life stressors that cause depressive or anxious feelings.  We serve individuals who are facing issues such as social isolation, adjustments to new phases of life issues (illness, physical or cognitive decline), caregiving stress, relationship issues, to name a few.  We provide support for caregivers of loved ones with dementia, as well as family members with mental illnesses.  


Why is it important to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services? 

We have heard many clients say that they can speak English but that it’s difficult to express their deeper level feelings. Many of our clients are unable to speak English at all, so LTSC may be one of the very few places whether they can receive bilingual social services.  For this reason, providing linguistically appropriate services is very important.  Providing culturally appropriate services is perhaps even more important since each individual’s culture helps to shape their history, background, values, and life views – in general how they perceive things, including how they perceive mental health and seeking and receiving services. Providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services help our staff to build rapport with individuals and understand our clients better, in regards to their values and beliefs, stigmas and barriers.


What would you like people to know about social work as a profession, or about seeking help from a social worker?

Often, we are asked by the community if we are volunteers. I would like to let people know that social workers are professional staff- specifically, the mental health staff have all completed their graduate studies in either social work/social welfare, or counseling services.  In addition, many of our mental health staff are licensed (LCSW or LMFT) by the state of California.  We would like people to know that it is our mission to provide mental health and other social services to individuals in need as well as to the community in a non-judgemental manner, providing empowerment, advocacy and support while ensuring self determination.  

pay it back, pay it forward
Volunteer Spotlight: Jason Yee

people in a google hangout callJason Yee began volunteering with LTSC’s small business assistance program during the pandemic to help Kenji Suzuki, owner of Suehiro Cafe. Along with his teammate, Kathy Pham, the two have worked on the restaurant’s digital marketing efforts like revamping the Suehiro website and keeping their social media up to date.  Thanks to help from small business volunteers like Jason, LTSC has been able to connect business owners with additional help to navigate the pandemic, including digital marketing assistance, online delivery set up and more.

How did you become a volunteer for LTSC? 

One of my coworkers is a volunteer with Far Bar. He mentioned that with COVID the small businesses in Little Tokyo needed help. He connected me with Mariko [LTSC Small Business Counselor] and she connected me to Suehiro. I have great memories of Suehiro since they’ve been around for ages. I would go to karaoke across the street and would wander over afterward and grab something to eat. So I jumped in and tried to support however I could. 


What motivates you to volunteer your time and talent to help our small business assistance program?

I’m a big believer in giving back and being part of a community. I’ve been fortunate that in my personal life and career I’ve always had people give me a helping hand so I strongly believe it’s my duty to pay it back and pay it forward – how can I help the next person? I think small businesses are the backbone of LA and seeing what the pandemic was doing to mom and pop shops was devastating to me.


What’s your experience been like working with Kenji? 

He’s such a nice guy. He’s been super open and communicative. I’ve run a food business before and I’ve been a marketing professional for years, so I was able to understand the challenges that Kenji was facing and then generate new ideas for marketing that were practical for both the business side and advertising side. It’s been super collaborative, and it’s been great working with him and Kathy, the other volunteer on the team.


What would you say to someone who was considering volunteering with LTSC?

Raise your hand. It doesn’t matter what level of involvement or skill you have, many hands make for light work. I always feel like I get back so much more than I put in. You never know how great an impact you can make, and it will definitely enrich your life. 


If you or someone you know is interested in supporting Little Tokyo’s small businesses, please consider signing up as a volunteer or donating!

empowering women entrepreneurs
API Small Business Program Woman’s Center

two women at vendor booth at farmer's market

This Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program Women’s Business Center (API SBP WBS) and their vital work uplifting women entrepreneurs. LTSC is a proud member and fiscal sponsor of the API SPB program.

When COVID-19 hit, Teresita “Tess” Mercado was furloughed from her flight attendant job at United Airlines after 14 years. Not one to give up easily, Tess decided to pursue her dream of becoming a gourmet snack purveyor, restarting the Nutridge Farms business she put on hold 17 years ago. 

By April, Tess had registered the business in California, launched a website, obtained a commercial kitchen space, received approval by the San Bernardino Health Department, and secured three wholesale customers.For Tess, the signature nuts and pretzels created at Nutridge Farms are a true labor of love as she uses only the best products for her customers assuring them impeccable personalized service every time.

Tess contacted API SBP looking for assistance with minority-owned certifications. Together with small business counselor Sharon Senko, Tess strategized about scaling production and targeting larger wholesale customers. She realized her products are ideal for specialty grocers, and shifted her sales strategy. Through her hard work and tenacity Tess landed 5 additional wholesale customers and in September closed a deal with Jensen’s Foods. She is looking to hire part-time help and will soon need a larger commercial kitchen space. “I am so proud of Tess. To change careers and re-start a business takes courage and she is one of the most resilient women I know,” said Sharon.

“Working with my API SBP business counselor has truly been a Godsend. Sharon Senko is not just my counselor but an invaluable partner. I look forward to our standing weekly meetings to report my weekly progress and get her feedback. She not only provides me with valuable information and resources on how to grow my business, but also provides encouragement and support that keeps me motivated and accountable. I was very fortunate to be partnered with Sharon from the onset, and can attribute some of my success to her and the program in general,” says Tess.

 You can find Nutridge Farms’ products at Cal Poly Pomona Farm Market, Tom’s Farms Candy Shoppe & Farmer’s Market, The Avocado House, Idyllwild Village Market, Gerrard’s Market, Irvine Ranch Market, Jensen’s Finest Foods, and at the Chino Hills Farmer’s Market. Or order online at:

santa monica and vermont project
Bringing Affordable Housing to East Hollywood

rendering of future affordable housing project

LTSC’s Santa Monica & Vermont (SMV) Apartments, in partnership with LA County Metro, promises 187 units of deeply affordable and permanent supportive housing in a high-traffic area in East Hollywood – a neighborhood that has seen skyrocketing cases of homelessness, gentrification and displacement. 

SMV is a model project, weaving affordable housing with transit access, jobs, social services, health care, small business space, green sustainability and more. The ground floor will include approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of commercial and community uses, including a federally qualified health center, pharmacy and convenience store, local legacy business food court, community rooms and social service offices.

This project is the culmination of more than two years of in-depth community engagement and is the product of a co-developed vision with more than 500 stakeholders and two dozen local organizations, including the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Thai Community Development Center, and Jimbo Times (an East Hollywood stakeholder). 

LTSC is proud to partner with neighboring communities of color to build equitable housing and services by and for the community. Last week, LTSC Assistant Project Manager Caroline Calderon spoke on the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council’s panel series discussing the future of housing and planning in East Hollywood. 

Watch the panel here!

You can support East Hollywood community stakeholders Jimbo Times and This Side of Hoover by purchasing their magazine ‘Making our Neighborhood’ which explores the past, present and future of East Hollywood.

Purchase the magazine here!

Quick Updates

LTSC staff on the telephoneSocial Services Completes Second Round of Wellness Checks
LTSC staff completed a second round of wellness checks to 400 seniors residing in Little Tokyo Towers, Far East Building, San Pedro Firm Building, Daimaru and JCI Gardens earlier this month. The first round of wellness checks at the beginning of the pandemic identified urgent needs and informed LTSC’s response – addressing food insecurity, providing social interactions through safe wellness activities, disseminating public health information regarding COVID vaccinations in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Spanish, providing mental health support, and more. LTSC’s pandemic-related support continues as we strive to meet the unmet needs of our senior residents.


two seniors making ikebana flower arrangements

Senior Activities Return at Little Tokyo Towers
A variety of safe senior activities have returned to LTT. Socially distant exercise classes are offered twice a week through the building’s CCTV. In-person activities are offered twice a week (following CDC guidelines) and range from arts and crafts to exercise to basic language classes. Activities are offered in Korean, Japanese, and English.



three preschool girls smiling


Angelina Preschool Opens Up Fourth Classroom
When the pandemic hit, school class sizes were reduced in order to keep students and staff safe. For Angelina Preschool, that unfortunately meant reducing their enrollment by almost half. Working hard to get students back in the classroom, LTSC renovated the building’s community room to receive temporary licensure as an additional classroom. After months of renovation and inspections, Angelina Preschool opened a fourth classroom in December 2020 and was able to welcome back families and students in need! This temporary classroom will remain until state guidelines allow for a safe return to full capacity.

woman doing yoga


Outdoor Movement Classes at Budokan
Sign up for outdoor movement classes at Terasaki Budokan: yoga classes by instructor Riki Aihara and fitness classes by instructor Cameron Lew. Classes start March 20, 2021. Register for a class here. These outdoor classes will follow CDC guidelines.



three people under a tent at a drive through swab eventA3M Patient Update and Registration Events
Paul received a transplant! A3M patient Paul Goodman went to transplant Friday, March 12. Although a match from the public registry wasn’t found in time, his doctors proceeded with transplanting his sister’s cells who was a 50% match. We wish Paul well on his road to recovery!

There are thousands of people in need of a match. Visit Paul’s website to see upcoming registration events (or to register online).

your donation makes a difference
Thank you to all of our wonderful donors and supporters.
Our work isn’t possible without you!

February 2021 Donors

Thank you to all our supporters for your contributions last month!
Add your name to the list by making a DONATION today.

George and Helen Abe

Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc.


Dennis Arguelles

Ron Baca

Elizabeth Burton

Yi Bing Chen and Ming Shan Liang

Ben Chida

Brenton Chuck

Samantha de Castro

Daryl Doami

Jeffrey and Lorraine Dohzen

Edison International

Susan Fujisaki

Caitlin Gattuccio

Myron Gee and Ann Ogawa Gee

Robert Guffin

Lisa Hasegawa

Kerin Higa

Meghan Holtan

Edna Ikeda Horiuchi

Justine Jose

Ronald Kamiya

Gary Kanemoto

Marsh & McLennan Companies

Carolyn Kobayashi

Keiko Kuida

Elisabeth Lassanyi

Vien Le

Oliver Lee

Atsuko Lee

Little Tokyo Community Health Fair

Yuet Lui

Lori Magallanes

Susan Maki

Gary and June Masada

Microsoft Rewards / Give with Bing

Carmen Middleton

Victor and Meriko Miyamoto

MUFG Union Bank

Mike Murase and June Hibino

Nicole Murph

Eliza J. Ngo

Ross and Elaine Nishimura

Office of Supervisor Hilda L. Solis

John Okita and Michiko Yamamoto


Pacific Life Foundation

Maria Paulus

PlayStation Cares

David Sakamoto

Trevor San Antonio

Taeko Schaeffer

Margaret and Ken Shimada

Grant Sunoo and Emily Mayeda

Michael Suzuki

Esther Taira

Sumiko Takahashi

Kelly and Rintaro Takasu

Yuka Takeuchi

George Tanaka

Stacey Tanaka

Chelle Tateishi

Carolyn Tokunaga

Reiko Totani


Loan Thi Tran and Ngoc Vuong

Keith Umemoto

Douglas Urata

Jane Voong

Momoyo Walters

Marsha and Gary Watanabe

Weingart Foundation

Lesley and Russell Wong

Shannon Wu

Yukiko Yamamoto

Teiko Yamazaki

Catherine Yen

Eileen Yumibe

Ryoko and Yoshiro Yunouye

Tribute Gifts

In Honor of Gidra Journal

Judy Wu

Memorial Gifts

In Memory of David Y. Miyashita

Marivic A. Miyashita

In Memory of Merilynne Hamano Quon


Denise Barrera

Aneta Chen

Rocky Chin and May Ying Chen

Pamela Eguchi

Kim Geron

Aki and Liz Horiuchi

Edna Ikeda Horiuchi

Katherine and Robert Landy

Lawrence Lee

Mayumi Masaoka

Vivian Matsushige

Carole Nakano

Emily Quon

Candice Quon

Jamie Shimomura

Emiko, Keigo, Ryo, and Mika Ueda

Brian Niiya and Karen Umemoto

Gayle and Craig Wong

Jason Wong

Mrs. Wong, Mike and Candice’s Family

Suzi Wong

In Memory of Mitsue Nishio

Nancy and Ronald Ellison

Atsuko Fukunaga

Richard Katsuda

Raymond Lockwood

Alan and Yvonne Nishio

In Memory of Mitzi Naohara

Kitty Sankey

In Memory of Rose and Charles Fujisaki


In Memory of Yoshinori Takamine

Kitty Sankey

In Memory of Jeannette Kyoko Sanderson

Emily and Dan Weaver

Terasaki Budokan

Akemi Arakaki and Takao Suzuki

Akira Fujimoto

Katherine Li

Don Matsumoto

MUFG Union Bank

Jason and Rachelle Samson

Loana Valencia

Jayne and Gideon Young Family

Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M)

Christine Chang

Veronica Lases


Sabah Rahman

Unique Plant Rentals Inc.

A3M Tribute Gifts

In Honor of Paul Goodman

Cynthia Nishimoto-Nishida

James and Melissa Sarashina

Accessibility Tools