With the formation of Asian American identity during the 1960s student movements, Sacramento’s Asian communities came together in a unique way to serve its seniors. Celebrating 50 years, ACC Senior Services has evolved into a major organization that supports Sacramento’s senior populations, but it was born out of an eclectic mix of community interests and activism that came together in 1972.
Today, ACC Senior Services runs three assisted living and nursing homes along with a community center in the city’s southern Pocket neighborhood.
The organization is contracted to deliver meals through its Meals on Wheels program throughout Sacramento and employs some 300 people.
Jean Shiomoto, ACC’s board chair and interim president and CEO, said they send their newsletter to more than 10,000 people a month. With the pandemic forcing many programs to go online, Shiomoto said their predominantly Sacramento reach has extended to participants from as far as Japan or England on occasion through online streaming.
“We have people coming in for our bingo program from all over the United States. … (W)e’ve gone beyond just the Sacramento community, we serve a big community,” she said.
ACC, however did not always strive to be a wide-reaching community service organization, per se. It began out of an effort to address the needs expressed by Sacramento-area Japanese and Chinese American community members.
Activism Through Asian Community Services
During a series of streams entitled “ACC History Project Livestreams,” organization members recalled how the nonprofit came to be. Two of the episodes posted on YouTube covered the story of the Japanese community center and Asian Community Services. These were two separate but closely related community-led efforts from within Sacramento’s Asian American community. One, Asian Community Services, was only active for four years, starting in 1969, but the organization was spearheaded by young Asian American activists seeking to fix racial inequalities in the Sacramento area. The other, the Japanese Community Center of Sacramento Valley, was a largely-Japanese American-led effort to establish a Japanese cultural center in Sacramento in 1972. Both efforts were rooted in the recognition that Asian Americans were not being served by existing entities.
“Racism was as common as apple pie against the Asian American community at that time,” Harold Fong, a former ACS member, said. “We were not being served by the city, the county, or state departments or even by the private sector in Sacramento.”
Coming out of the ethnic studies movement, Fong said he and like-minded activists took what they learned and wanted to bring it back to their communities. ACS, according to the ACC panel, protested racist caricatures at the Fantasia miniature golf course, established after school activities for Asian American students in downtown Sacramento and secured city funds for classes catered for Asian American seniors.
According to Randy Shiroi, another activist who was involved with both ACS and JCC, seniors taking ACS’ Issei knitting class took a field trip to a senior citizen center run by the city in 1972, which led to a campaign to ask the city to fund culturally sensitive classes for Chinese and Japanese seniors.
“All of the staff at the senior citizen center spoke English. Nobody spoke Japanese. Nobody spoke Chinese. So (Asian seniors) wouldn’t fit in there,” Shiroi said. “That really opened our eyes. These services were being provided from taxpayer dollars, but not for us.”
ACS’ activities culminated in the formation of a broad coalition of community members to urge the Sacramento City Unified School District board to reconsider closing William Land School in 1973. The all-white school board, according to panelists, planned to close 13 seismically unfit schools, but only rebuild five, most of them located in more affluent neighborhoods.
“William Land School had been functioning in some ways as a community center as well. We had the Chinese school, … the ceramics class. There were lots of other activities,” Shiroi said. “The communities were able to organize the parents and go to the school board to demand that William Land be rebuilt.”
Homes for Seniors Sought
While ACS delved into the activist front, forming new programs and protesting inequality, Japanese American community members formed the Japanese Community Center of Sacramento Valley to build a Japanese Cultural Center in Sacramento. According to Shiroi, Leo Goto, who worked for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, began organizing Japanese American community members in 1971, calling upon the Japanese American Citizens League, the kenjinkai and churches to discuss his hopes for a senior housing community, youth space and cultural center. While funding for a cultural center was lacking, Goto and other community leaders realized there was a need for culturally sensitive senior housing and programs for Asian seniors.
“We had these grandiose ideas of having a community center and the cultural center in which the community could get together and do various things, but the economic reality (was), we didn’t have any money,” Phil Hiroshima, a former leader of the Sacramento chapter of the JACL and current legal counsel to ACC said. “In that study, it was discovered that the primary needs, the immediate needs of the Asian community at that time, (were for) the elderly, and how can we support the elderly and what do they need?”
While the community survey revealed the JCC should help seniors with translation services and processing social security requests, they identified a larger need for housing for the elderly. Hiroshima, however, said the Japanese American community alone could not build a nursing home for seniors.
“These young people, … they thought that the only way we get something successful is to join forces with other Asians in the Sacramento community,” Hiroshima said. “But the idea of getting the Japanese and Chinese together, number one, it never happened before as far as we know anywhere in the United States. Number two, from the old folks point of view, it’s a crazy idea. It’ll never happen.”
Hiroshima, however, said activists like Shiroi and his brother Earl Shiroi and others like Peggy Saika, had grown up in the same community and saw themselves as Asian American rather than Japanese or Chinese American.
“In regards to the Japanese and Chinese working together in Sacramento, I think one of the things that is fairly unique about Sacramento is, by the 1970s, you have a generation of Chinese and Japanese kids who had grown up together, gone to the same schools, so they were already friends,” Shiroi said. “And so with this concept of ‘we’d be stronger if we worked together,’ it made sense. … So it was much easier, I think, in Sacramento to try to realize that concept and put it into practice.”
Hiroshima, however, added that JCC’s organizers, based in the church organizations and the JACL, sometimes butted heads with ACS. He noted that older JACL members called the younger activists “trouble makers,” and warned him not to engage with them.
“(Younger activists) were looking for power. The JACL was not looking for power. The church community was not looking for power. They were wanting to serve the needs of the community. And so we had different goals. They wanted power. We wanted to get some results,” Hiroshima said. “I’m told that they were trouble and so let’s do our own thing. And when they came and asked for help from JACL and then later on from JCC, the Japanese Community Center, we reached out to them and joined forces recognizing the need of the community.”
Ultimately, ACS ceased its operations in 1973. The JCC, which renamed itself ACC in 1979 to reflect its pan-Asian focus, would eventually realize its mission of building the Asian Community Nursing Home in 1983. While the organization did not have the funding to pursue its nursing home for more than a decade since its inception, it continued to serve as a community center of sorts after absorbing ACS’ senior programs.
The organization adopted the senior classes and activities such as its knitting class and go club and kept those programs going throughout the years. According to Fong, ACC closed because organizers thought they had fulfilled their goals of raising issues and starting programs.
“We wanted to start them, but we also wanted to educate people and they would take responsibility in running those kinds of programs,” Fong said.
“And at the time, we were young and idealistic, and we felt we had reached that point and that was the reason why we closed.”
Saika meanwhile said ACC taking on ACS’ programs ultimately helped partially realize Goto’s vision: “It really is, in multiple, multiple ways … a community center,” she said.
After developing the nursing home, ACC continued to expand its services, including opening the Asian Community Center in 2002. The organization established ACC Rides, a transportation service for seniors, in 2003; opened its independent and assisted living facility ACC Greenhaven Terrace in 2007; started delivering meals as Meals on Wheels by ACC in 2010; and most recently opened its newest assisted living facility Maple Tree Village in 2020, which also provides memory care.
A Diversified Community Center
Today, ACC has continued to adapt its programs to meet the needs of seniors living in its community. No longer focused solely on Asian seniors, ACC’s programs now aim to address the needs of their local community, rather than the needs of Asian seniors alone.
“ACC, it was the Asian Community Center, but in more recent years, we have started to call it ‘A Community of Caring’ because we wanted everyone to know that we don’t serve just Asian Americans, and we are culturally sensitive of every background,” Dani Lee, ACC’s Lifelong Learning and Wellness Program manager, said. “We include everybody (of) all backgrounds, all abilities, all ages.”
According to the center’s staff, the community center had pivoted to offering its programs online during the height of the pandemic, but has kept the streams going even as in-person programming has resumed.
“We’ve learned more and more about how to do live streaming and how to do some events virtually. And I think that’s not going to go away,” Jeri Shikuma, ACC’s home and community-based programs administrator, told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Although we’re opening up to in-person and there are many people who really benefit from that and want to come back in-person, there’s still a cohort of people who benefit from being able to access our classes and services remotely. So we know that we have to keep learning about how to deliver it in that way.”
Shikuma added the community center has decided to decline charging any mandatory fees for classes since the pandemic began, saying she wanted to reach as many people as she could through her programs.
“We’re trying to figure out in all aspects, how to make our programs more accessible,” she said. “If they don’t have transportation, then they can access us online. If they don’t have the money to pay for a class fee, it’s free. So that shouldn’t be a barrier.
“We’re trying to do things like expand our language capabilities, so that more things will be accessible to people who may not have high English proficiency. We are also, even looking at things like, how to provide services for people who have a range of abilities in their mobility, for example.”
Shiomoto said the pandemic has greatly changed the organization’s plans for the future, but she said she hopes to continue developing a hybrid community center for employees and the community alike.
Shiomoto added that the biggest challenge her organization now faces is staffing, due to the pandemic.
Still, as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary, she told the Nichi Bei Weekly about some of its biggest achievements. There is the developmental success of opening their nursing home and being able offer lifeline services to seniors even during the pandemic, enabling seniors to get to medical appointments and dialysis. She also mentioned ACC’s newest program, which offers escort services to seniors who want to go shopping or participate in other activities. Shiomoto said she heard about one woman who felt safer having used the service to attend her tai chi class.
“Those are things that we hear back from the community, (and ways) we provide value to the community,” she said.
What is ACC?
ACC Senior Services
7334 Park City Drive
Sacramento, CA 95831
ACC’s administrative headquarters and community center where programs are held in-person.
ACC Care Center
7801 Rush River Drive
Sacramento, CA 95831
Originally the Asian Community Nursing Home, now the ACC Care Center, the facility provides skilled nursing and rehabilitation services.
ACC Greenhaven Terrace
1180 Corporate Way
Sacramento, CA 95831
Independent Living: (916)-395-0210/(916) 395-0214
Assisted Living: (916) 393-7145
ACC’s independent and assisted living complex located across the street from its headquarters.
ACC Maple Tree Village
18 Kado Ct.
Sacramento, CA 95831
The newest facility ACC opened in January of 2020, Maple Tree Village offers assisted living and memory care.