The annual Kimochi Spirit Awards, held at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco’s Japantown May 16, featured an afternoon of recognition and music. Kimochi Inc., which provides culturally sensitive assistance to seniors and their caregivers, honored those who have supported the organization and the greater Japantown community.
Kimochi presented its Associate Director Steve Ishii and Ellen Kiyomizu, a board member and chair of the nonprofit’s marketing committee, with the Kimochi Spirt Award. Dean Ito Taylor, co-founder and executive director of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, received the Nihonmachi Spirit Award in recognition of his service and commitment to the Japanese American community. The nonprofit also awarded PG&E with the Kimochi Corporate Spirit Award.
The afternoon program emceed by NBC Bay Area’s Robert Handa featured video presentations on the awardees’ accomplishments and contributions, along with entertainment by The J-Town Jazz Ensemble, pianist Shota Homma and the Ayako Hosokawa Quartet.
Ishii first joined Kimochi as a 17-year-old high school volunteer in 1977. He recalled being inspired by seeing the Sansei help the Issei after school. “The senior Issei were pretty stoic. They didn’t show a lot of emotion,” he said in his introductory video. “The staff there brought out the emotion. They were laughing, there was a lot of comfort and warmth.”
Lloyd Lew, Ishii’s former co-worker at Kimochi, presented the award with Anna Sawamura, Kimochi’s program director. Lew called Ishii a “modern day warrior” for seniors. He said Ishii has a talent for bringing people together, especially for the weekend and holiday senior lunch services he helped start as program coordinator. While government funding for the program was eventually cut and the program had to close, Sawamura said Ishii sacrificed his own holidays and weekends to ensure the seniors had access to the program while it operated for more than 20 years. She said he also gave up his career as an architect to work on strengthening the organization’s administration and has served as associate director for more than 15 years.
Ishii said Kimochi’s mission has stood the test of time and has persisted because of its staff and mentorship from the organization’s leaders, including Executive Director Steve Nakajo, and former Development Director Sandy Mori.
Kiyomizu first began volunteering for Kimochi’s lunch program in memory of her mother, who had benefitted from the nonprofit’s services. Kiyomizu, who is from Seattle, has led a career in advertising. According to Kimochi, she previously managed high profile accounts in excess of $600 million as senior vice-president of Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco. In 2008, Kiyomizu joined Kimochi’s board, sharing her media expertise as the nonprofit’s marking committee chair in partnership with NDD Creative. Kaz Naganuma, creative director of NDD Creative, presented the award.
He credited Kiyomizu with maintaining clear communication between Kimochi and the public. Naganuma said Kiyomizu is kind, but “very tough when she needs to be.”
Kiyomizu accepted the award, saying she was standing in spirit with the 14 other members of the organization’s board. Kiyomizu praised Kimochi’s work for both seniors and caregivers. “Everyone in this room is or will be a caregiver,” she said, whether it would be to care for an aging parent, a spouse or any other family member.
Board member Paul Chin presented the Kimochi Corporate Spirit Award to PG&E. According to Nakajo, the company has been “one of the longest, consistent corporate sponsors” and the first corporation to contribute to Kimochi’s new facility in San Mateo, Calif. Alicia Bert, government relations manager at PG&E, accepted the award on her company’s behalf.
Ito Taylor helped found Nihonmachi Legal Outreach in 1975 out of the civil rights, antiwar and ethnic studies movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Now known as Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, the nonprofit social justice organization provides “holistic legal, social, and educational services in more than a dozen languages,” according to the nonprofit.
Ito Taylor, in his video, said he was inspired to act through the injustice his community faced, including the wartime incarceration. He saw the legal process as a vehicle to the change he wished to see.
Akiko Takeshita, APILO’s managing attorney, presented the award to Ito Taylor. She said Ito Taylor sets the tone for the office, working hard and doing what needs to be done, including running the errands required to keep the office running. She said she felt honored to work for the organization and couldn’t imagine what it was like to form the organization as law students. “I can only imagine what it was like (when it was first founded),” she said.
Ito Taylor noted that Kimochi brings together multiple generations of people to serve the seniors and the sense of volunteerism it inspires in its staff and volunteers. Originally from Los Angeles, he said members of the Japantown community “cemented my commitment to community service.”
Ito Taylor said his organization began volunteering for Kimochi’s Nutrition Program and the Japanese Community Youth Council. Ito Taylor said while today’s generation has noble goals to change the world, they come with a sense of entitlement. He said there is a “need to keep on teaching our younger generations on what it is to be dedicated, like the folks at Kimochi.” Finally, he thanked his community, both at his organization and in Japantown for fighting against injustice, saying progressive change and social change isn’t a “fad or hobby,” but “a way of life.”
After the awards, John Noguchi and Sandy Mori, co-chairs of Kimochi San Mateo’s the capital campaign, reported on the nonprofit’s expansion down to San Mateo County. Mori said that nearly $1.8 million of the $2.5 million has been met. With the construction permit issued, Mori said she hopes for the construction to be finished by the end of this year.
The event closed with Kimochi’s annual raffle and door prizes.