Margaret Shimada Retires After 15 Years at LTSC - Little Tokyo Service Center

Margaret Shimada Retires After 15 Years at LTSC

Margaret Shimada Retires After 15 Years at LTSC

By Mike Murase

margaret headshotMargaret Shimada will retire at the end of March 2024 after a fifteen-year tenure at Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC). Most recently the Director of Service Programs from 2016 to 2024, Shimada also served as Resource Development Director from 1995 to 2002. Under her leadership, Shimada oversaw mental health programs, advocacy efforts, case management, domestic violence support, and more. She also helped spearhead the creation of LTSC’s new Homeless Services program focused on outreach, direct services and housing navigation for unhoused folks in Little Tokyo and beyond.

Reflecting on Shimada’s impact, LTSC Executive Director Erich Nakano said, “Margaret strengthened our Social Services Department and led its extraordinary response to the urgent challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under her leadership, our social workers pivoted, improvised and worked tirelessly to save lives and protect our clients under the most difficult of circumstances. She championed a focus on wellness at a time when mental health issues were approaching crisis proportions across the country. One of her most significant accomplishments is the launch of Changing Tides, an innovative approach to engage young Asian Americans to reduce mental health stigma in our community.”

LTSC’s Changing Tides program is led today by a young-adult leadership group called the “CT Crew.” Twenty-three year old Matthew Yonemura, Changing Tides program coordinator, said, “To be here today, with five years of services and activities behind us, it speaks to Margaret’s intuition and dedication to the programs she believes in.”

margaret and yasuko in a photo frame
I’ve known Margaret since the 80s. She is compassionate, professional and highly regarded by her peers. More than anything, Margaret is kind and gentle and I always thought of her as a resilient warrior who makes things happen despite challenges. When Margaret decided to come back to LTSC as I got ready to retire, my mind was at ease. -Yasuko Sakamoto, LTSC’s founding Director of Social Services

As Director of Service Programs, Shimada worked with a trusted leadership team of six social workers to guide the multi-faceted department and its complexities. Jun Hori, Manager of Care and Support Programs, reflected, “I can’t imagine having gone through so many unprecedented times including the COVID-19 pandemic without Margaret’s unique leadership providing support, strength, compassion, and creativity with tremendous courage and grace.”

Alison Kochiyama, Executive Director, Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute, shared, “During an extremely painful time of my brother’s last stage of life succumbing to AIDS, Margaret provided our family with such compassion and support, and facilitated deep and difficult conversations that we wished we had much earlier on. We will always be grateful for Margaret’s sincere kindness, gentleness, and open heart.”

In addition to her skilled social work, LTSC’s board of directors noted Shimada’s impressive networking and relationship-building skills. Board member, doctor and philanthropist Dr. Keith Terasaki said, “Margaret has done a fantastic job leading her group and expanding services. She provides energy, enthusiasm and leadership in delivering much-needed services. She has trained a lot of the Social Services staff to have similar qualities.”

margaret and jeff yonemura
Margaret knows everyone. That alone will be irreplaceable to LTSC. She works hard to drive consensus and is compassionate about what others think. At the same time, she is a force! When she is determined, she gets things done! - Jeff Yonemura, LTSC board member

Beyond her tremendous impact within LTSC, Shimada’s influence extends to the larger community. Gene Kanamori, the former president and CEO of Keiro, recalls, “I got a chance to work with Margaret very closely, discussing difficult topics and looking for solutions. She listens, she processes, and she carries things out. Margaret always had a way of making you feel good about yourself. She did the work without any fanfare and gave others credit, just like a true leader would do.”

Another long-time acquaintance, Dennis Murata, retired deputy director of LA County’s Department of Mental Health, said, “I’ve known Margaret since 1982 when we were first year MSW students at UCLA. In addition to seeing her professional growth over the years, her core attitude towards people and her profession has remained solidly intact. Her interactions with others are genuine and sincere and I have seen how much admiration people have for her. I consider myself fortunate to be both a colleague and friend to her.”

kevin sasaki banner
margaret hugging friend
From my first phone conversation with Margaret 'it felt right'. After losing our son Kevin to suicide, we started looking for a nonprofit that focused on mental health that friends and relatives could donate to to help those in need and at risk just like Kevin. We were referred to Margaret Shimada through a friend who was already helping with Changing Tides. I had interviewed a few organizations but it was only with Margaret did it feel like 'this is the one'. Reality is, it is more accurately stated as 'this is the person'. Margaret was kind, understanding, compassionate and a great listener. I could feel her empathy and desire to make things better. She understood our desire to make Kevin’s life matter and because of Margaret and Changing Tides we have an organization of people that are using Kevin’s life to make a difference. - Ned Sasaki, Changing Tides supporter

In addition to her work in social services, Shimada also served as LTSC’s Resource Development Director. Notably, she was brought on board to help the fundraising team conceptualize and implement LTSC’s Tofu Festival, a popular night market-style event featuring creative tofu dishes that drew 20,000 attendees and 200+ volunteers.

Shimada’s lifetime of contributions extend not only to LTSC, Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community, but she has also worked for, consulted with, or served on the board of Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP), Keiro, Koreatown Youth & Community Services (KYCC), Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), Center for Pacific Asian Families (CPAF), Pediatric Therapy Network, Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team (APAIT), Asian American Symphony Guild, Nichi Bei Fujinkai, Peninsula Committee of the LA Philharmonic and UCLA Stein Eye Institute.

As she retires, Margaret Shimada leaves an indelible mark not only on LTSC’s social services, homeless services, and relationship-building and resource development, but on her colleagues and the community at large. Her successor, Peter Gee, began his transition with Shimada in January 2024.

margaret and courtlyn
My mom's best quality is her ability to talk to anyone and make them feel comfortable instantly. I think her work has inspired so many of us to just ‘try and see what happens.’ Her optimism in this sense is contagious. - Courtlyn Shimada, LCSW
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