From left: Taryn Akiyoshi, Gabriel Tajima-Pena, Casey Tokeshi, Matthew Iida, Kirstyn Middo and Lorie Meza make a presentation on their group project for the Youth CAN Culmination on Aug. 20 at Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Kizuna’s high school and college students celebrated and shared their vision for the Japanese American community at the Youth CAN Culmination Program, held this past Tuesday.

This year’s program involved over 60 students, each of whom shared their passion, dreams and drive to engage in the Japanese American community.

The Culmination Program serves as the capstone event for Kizuna’s Youth CAN Program, now in its third year, which builds identity, community and activism amongst Japanese American youth. The program occurs over the course of 10 weeks and is divided into three tracks for new students, returning students and college supervisors.

“The Culmination Program is a way for Kizuna to show the community what we do and why we exist,” said Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama, who serves as a lead facilitator for the Youth CAN program as well as Kizuna’s board chair. “The best and the most critical aspect of the evening is that our youth participants say it for us.

“The Youth CAN Program is unique in that we don’t just offer community service, but we build an understanding of who they are as Japanese Americans and create a foundation of why the next generation needs to be involved. Our students understand that their engagement will ensure a future for our community.”

During the Culmination Program, Kizuna’s students presented a number of community service projects they had completed over the course of the summer.

The first group of students, working with Nobuko Miyamoto of Great Leap, presented a short documentary on the “Mottainai” project and its impact on Obon festivals and the Japanese American community.

Another group of students, working with Traci Kato-Kiriyama of the Tuesday Night Project, shared their experience performing an improv act during a summer session of Tuesday Night Cafe.

Finally, a third group of students, working with independent artist Jonathan Takahashi, presented photographic interpretations of the Japanese American and Little Tokyo community.

Additionally, students presented newsletters and songs and provided reflection on their experience during the Youth CAN Program. One graduating senior, Alex Kanegawa, said the following:

“For me, Youth CAN has been a vastly enriching experience, imparting critical lessons regarding leadership, identity, culture and community organizing. However, it’s also given me something beyond conventional measure: a lifelong passion for the community I once so comfortably remained oblivious to, which has opened doors I never thought I’d ever have the privilege of stepping through.”

As a result of his experience with Kizuna, Kanegawa is currently a volunteer intern at the Little Tokyo Service Center as well as The Rafu Shimpo. 

“Culmination is living proof of what we do here at Kizuna,” said Craig Ishii, Kizuna’s executive director and one of the lead facilitators for Youth CAN. “Our organization is all about creating a passion to be involved from the next generation of youth. Through our programs, our students gain a strong sense of not just the ‘how’ to be involved, but also the ‘why.’ Our organization is making an enormous impact on community, Culmination is one of the ways in which we’re really able to articulate this impact.

“Kizuna would like to thank the many facilitators, interviewees, community liaisons and volunteers who dedicated their time and talents to making the Youth CAN Program happen. The greatness of the Youth CAN Program is created only with your support!”

Youth CAN occurs annually every summer. Applications for the 2014 program will be posted next March. Kizuna encourages high school students interested in learning more about the Japanese American community to apply. For more information, contact Ishii at or call (213) 973-4465.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *