New Yu-Ai Kai Executive Director Sees a Bright Future

Sophie Horiuchi Forrester, photo by Erin Yasuda Soto.

Sophie Horiuchi-Forrester walks through the Yu-Ai Kai senior services center in San Jose’s Japantown, enthusiastically greeting fellow staff members and seniors in both English and Japanese. It’s clear that she has a knack for connecting with people.

This skill has come in handy for Horiuchi-Forrester, who was named the executive director of Yu-Ai Kai in May. She succeeded Wes Mukoyama, who is now retired.

“I have a committed staff and board of directors. They care so much about Yu-Ai Kai. And the seniors, they’re so sweet and endearing. They’re like my aunties and uncles. They look forward to coming here,” she said.

Yu-Ai Kai provides lunches for seniors, in addition to a wide variety of classes ranging from painting and drawing to ukulele lessons and ikebana.

“You can come here for a morning class and then have lunch,” she said, adding that the activities are constantly changing.

Horiuchi-Forrester, who has a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in education from the University of California, Berkeley, said it is rewarding to see the seniors enjoying the classes.

“There’s a wonderful sense of well-being and self-esteem,” she said, adding that instructors tailor their classes to special needs.

Born and raised in Southern California, Horiuchi-Forrester has had vast experience in the nonprofit, education and government sectors. She previously worked for UCLA’s Alumni Association.

“I learned a lot about the structure of membership organizations,” said Horiuchi-Forrester, who is a San Jose resident.

She said she has also had a longtime interest in community building. She said that one of her chief inspirations was John Kobara, former executive director of the UCLA Alumni Association.

Horiuchi-Forrester that following the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles, Kobara suggested they try to find a way to re-establish community. So they “designed community service projects about alumni doing good things.”

“That fostered my interest in community,” said Horiuchi-Forrester, who has also done work in the area of volunteerism.

Horiuchi-Forrester also worked for the City of Sunnyvale as a senior management analyst, and at the Second Harvest Food Bank. She has also taught sixth grade in Hayward.

She was most recently a consultant to nonprofits and government agencies, and operated an online company called voluncheer.com.
When Horiuchi-Forrester heard about the opportunity to lead Yu-Ai Kai, she jumped at the chance.

“I’m Nisei. It’s been an interesting journey, a way to explore and connect with my cultural side,” said Horiuchi-Forrester, who is married to Paul and has sons Kenji, 8, and Loren, 16.

The family is active in the Japantown area. Kenji attends Suzume no Gakko and Loren is involved in San Jose Taiko for teens.

Horiuchi-Forrester said that that her parents came from Japan, and met and married in California. They currently live in Los Angeles near Little Tokyo.

In spite of the economic recession, Horiuchi-Forrester said Yu-Ai Kai is thriving thanks to all of its supporters.

“Everyone has been affected by the economic downturn. The community has been very supportive,” she said, adding that fund-raising events such as San Jose Sake have been very successful. She said that planning for Yu-Ai Kai’s 35th anniversary celebration on Nov. 6 is under way.
Horiuchi-Forrester is optimistic about the future of Yu-Ai Kai. One of the projects she is most excited about is the Dr. James Akiyama Wellness Center, located at 110 Jackson Street, which is currently under renovation and will open soon.

“We hope to introduce a wide range of new wellness programs. We want to expand dance classes, and there are opportunities for health programs. There are lots of great ideas,” she said.

Horiuchi-Forrester said some ideas being mentioned for the new facility include a community garden and a retirement planning class.
She said working for Yu-Ai Kai is very rewarding, and that one of her favorite parts of the job is the sense of pure joy that emanates among the seniors.

“You’ll always hear somebody laughing. That makes me feel so good. It’s a sign of health and energy. It means they feel good and connected,” she said.

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