New headquarters for J-Sei in works

IN THE WORKS ­— J-Sei’s new headquarters offers programing and office space to provide an “all-in-one” location easily accessible by public transit. courtesy of J-Sei

IN THE WORKS ­— J-Sei’s new headquarters offers programing and office space to provide an “all-in-one” location easily accessible by public transit. courtesy of J-Sei

EMERYVILLE, Calif. — J-Sei, a multi-generational and multi-cultural organization with its roots in Nikkei values and culture, purchased and is in the process of remodeling its new headquarters at 1285 66th Ave. in Emeryville, Calif. Located about two miles from the organization’s current headquarters and one mile from its senior center space — both in Berkeley — the new 12,000 square foot, two-story building will consolidate the organization’s services and programs in one location.

Originally founded as East Bay Japanese for Action, the organization served the Issei with social events and field trips before becoming Japanese American Services of the East Bay. The organization re-evaluated itself after Bruce Hironaka became the president of the board of directors in 2007. Hironaka served in that capacity through 2012, presiding over the senior service organization’s rebranding into J-Sei in late 2010.

“We realized that the organization probably had not been very dynamic for a number years,” he said. “We needed to realize the world had changed quite dramatically since 1971.”

Part of the planning to rebuild the organization included a centralized location for its services.

Diane Wong, who has served as executive director of J-Sei since 2011, said the organization had been looking for a location for about seven years, without any success. Last March, J-Sei purchased the building and began remodeling in October.

Wong said the organization faced challenges with its existing locations in Berkeley, Calif., calling the current setup “not ideal.” J-Sei currently operates out of an old Victorian building and the Berkeley Methodist United Church. The church, which hosts the senior lunch program and classes, is only available in the mornings due to the church’s schedule and the new building eliminates that constraint.

Wong also said that with the new building, her staff will be able to better monitor the seniors who rely on their services and provide them additional help without delay in an “all-in one” location.

Overall, Wong said the new building will allow J-Sei to grow. The organization, which currently serves some 800 people a year, intends to transfer all of its programs, classes and staff to the new building and grow from there. Without the old space and time constraints, Wong said J-Sei’s volunteers have also stepped up to offer more ideas for programming and classes.

“We have more square-footage, more hours (to operate); we’re expanding in all these directions,” Wong said.

“It would be a dream come true if the building becomes a catalyst as ideas bubble up,” Ned Isokawa, the current board president, said. “The more I hear, the more excited I get.”

Amy Shinsako, board secretary and senior lunch program volunteer, said her involvement extends back four decades through her father, who was coordinator for Sakura Kai senior center in El Cerrito, Calif. Through her tenure with J-Sei, Shinsako said she recognizes the Japanese American community is no longer the same as it was before. “We’re not purely ethnic Japanese anymore,” she said. While J-Sei serves many Japanese speaking seniors, Shinsako said she hopes the new building serves a multiethnic and multigenerational Nikkei community through cultural classes and activities.

“As needs change, we need to have the power to shift with it. I think all the members of our board have a deep understanding of this,” Isokawa said.

Among the nonprofit’s existing services is its senior lunch delivery program. Delivering 50 meals a day, Wong said the program serves the most vulnerable seniors. “For many it’s the healthiest meal of the day or the (delivery) driver is the only human contact they have that day,” Wong said. She added that J-Sei is the only “ethnic meal provider” in Alameda and Contra Costa counties where it delivers meals.

The two-story office building, located a block off from San Pablo Avenue and near Ashby Avenue offers onsite parking, is accessible from Highway 80 and close to multiple bus lines, including a free shuttle from MacArthur BART Station.

The building, located about five  blocks from Berkeley Bowl West, includes space for the senior lunch program and a new commercial kitchen on the first floor. The second floor houses the staff offices and space for classes and other programming. Wong said half of the first floor will be leased out as office space.

Isokawa said the organization has so far received $1.4 million for the new building, including a million dollars from an anonymous benefactor. While the organization needs $900,000 more to complete the project, J-Sei hopes to open its doors this coming April.

For more information on the new building and the Honor the Legacy capital campaign, visit www.j-sei.org.

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