After a career spanning six decades, Mike Watanabe recently retired as president and CEO of the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, Inc. (AADAP), a nonprofit agency best known for providing drug and alcohol treatment services in South Los Angeles.
Watanabe’s 46-year career at AADAP started in 1975 as a drug counselor whose clients entered a months-long, residential program at the agency’s treatment center. The program provided residents with a stable and supportive living environment, and it is a treatment model that is still in effect today.
In 1982, Watanabe was promoted to his current position and led AADAP from a grassroots organization of 20 staff members to a comprehensive service agency with more than 120 staff at 10 service sites serving more than 20,000 people each year.
Besides its residential treatment program, AADAP offers outpatient drug programs for youth and adults as well as drug prevention and education programs.
Over the years, AADAP has expanded its services to address the needs of an underserved community, providing employment resources and job training as well as programs involving gang intervention and HIV/AIDS outreach.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Watanabe moved to Los Angeles and attended Venice High School. After graduation, he was drafted into the Army and served in the Vietnam War as a helicopter crew chief.
Upon his return, Watanabe earned an undergraduate degree at Cal State Northridge and a master’s degree in social work at UCLA.
He is past president of Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON), a Los Angeles County-based consortium of more than 40 community-based agencies, and chaired its Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Committee for 12 years.
He served as a member of the Los Angeles County Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Commission for 16 years and chaired the Asian and Pacific Islander Constituent Committee as advisor to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (DADP) for eight years.
He is a founding board member of the National Asian Pacific Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA), a national organization of Asian Pacific drug and alcohol agencies. In the course of these activities, he has provided workshops, seminars, testimonies and consultation at local jurisdictions to national venues.
In 2017, Cal State Northridge and the trustees of the California State University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (LHD) degree in recognition of his life-long work in the social service field.
Dean Nakanishi, long-time administrative director at AADAP, is the new president and CEO.
Watanabe will be honored for his life-long commitment and work at AADAP’s Hybrid Fundraising Event: Showtime 2021, on Saturday, Oct. 9. The event will feature special performances by six-time Grammy winner Daniel Ho and the renowned Keali’I O Nalani Hula Dancers and includes an in-person VIP reception at the Terasaki Budokan at 5 p.m. and the live broadcast of the virtual show at 7 p.m. To find out more, call (323) 293-6284 or visit: https://showtime2021.givesmart.com