Children and Youth Dept. turns its back on Japantown


Lori Kunihara says that she owes a lot to the Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC) and her involvement in the Japantown Youth Leaders (JYL) program. “JYL taught me the value of serving the community and really gave me a sense of belonging. I learned so much from the staff of JYL and being in the program inspired me to pursue a public policy internship in Washington, D.C. and another opportunity to work at a children’s orphanage in Japan.” After participating in the JYL, Lori also went on to become the director of JCYC’s Tomodachi Summer Program and is now a staff member of JYL.

The JYL project, formerly known as the Japanese American Youth Services (JAYS) project, is currently the only city-funded youth program targeted toward the Japantown community. This past April, the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF) — the city department that provides funding for children and youth services throughout San Francisco — announced the complete elimination of funding for the JYL.

The JYL was established in 1998 in response to the community’s consensus need to increase the civic engagement and leadership development of youth. The need to cultivate future leaders for the community has been consistently validated by key stakeholders in San Francisco’s Japantown and throughout the state of California. The Japantown Task Force’s community plan identified the need to provide “meaningful roles for youth to become active with community efforts.”

In addition, the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council (CJACLC), a statewide coalition, has identified leadership development as one of the most critical issues confronting the future of the Japanese American community. Over the past 12 years, the JYL has engaged hundreds of youth in community service, leadership training and personal development.

The proposed elimination of the JYL and reductions to other children and youth services in San Francisco is the result of the city’s current budget crisis. The city is currently trying to balance a $483 million deficit for 2010/2011. However, according to JCYC Executive Director Jon Osaki, that does not justify this latest blow to Japantown’s youth. “I am well aware of the city’s budget deficit and would have understood a reduction,” said Osaki. “But, to be completely eliminated sends a message that the youth of our community don’t matter. It tells me that when times are tough, our community is just not a priority.”

The DCYF is charged with managing the city’s Children’s Fund, which was established by the voters of San Francisco and provides funding for children and youth services citywide. JCYC, along with all nonprofit service providers who receive funding from the city, was recently required to respond to a competitive application process administered by the DCYF. The decision by the DCYF to eliminate funding for the JYL effectively means that out of the department’s total funding allocation of $20 million, nothing will go toward Japantown.

Osaki is particularly concerned that through the latest application process, the DCYF decided to fund new projects at a time when the city is so strapped for cash. “I think it is unconscionable for DCYF to actually fund new projects when they are wiping out funding for Japantown,” stated Osaki. “As far as I’m concerned, that is a slap in the face to our entire community.”

In recent years, the Japantown community has been struggling to preserve the community’s future as a neighborhood. Efforts such as the Japantown Task Force and the current Japantown Better Neighborhood Plan Steering Committee continue to try and identify strategies to bolster the economic vitality and unique character of the community. But, despite these efforts, in recent years Japantown has witnessed the loss of the community’s bowling alley, community newspaper, and many of the local merchants. This latest blow to the youth of Japantown is yet another vital element of the community that could be lost forever.

According to the executive director of the Japantown Task Force, Bob Hamaguchi, the community will lose an important asset if the JYL is eliminated. “The JYL youth are always there when the community needs help to keep Japantown clean and when volunteers are needed for our festivals. It will be a major loss for Japantown if these young people aren’t consistently involved in the community and preparing themselves to one day become our future leaders.”

Lori also wonders about the future of the community without the JYL. “This program brought so many youth to Japantown and got them involved in so many ways. The community has great leaders and role models right now, but if we don’t develop the leadership potential of young people, who will eventually take their place and keep our community going?”

It is now up to the mayor and Board of Supervisors to respond and determine how funds can be restored for the youth of Japantown.

For more information on how you can help, contact Erika Tamura at (415) 563-8052 or via e-mail at

Erika Tamura is a program director with the Japanese Community Youth Council.

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