Bill Watanabe was born in 1944 at Manzanar, an incarceration camp in California for Japanese Americans by the US government during WWII. Watanabe would later attend UCLA to earn his master’s degree in social welfare. Since then he has led a life of service for Japanese Americans and marginalized communities. In 1980, he was selected as the founding executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) and charged to develop a multi-purpose social service agency to meet the broad needs of the Japanese American community. LTSC has grown from its beginnings with one staff person to employing a staff of 150, most of whom are multilingual and multicultural. Under Watanabe’s 32 years at the helm, LTSC became a leader in community-based housing and economic development, working in partnership with various communities of color. LTSC programs include childcare, youth and family counseling, parenting classes, business development, and services for the elderly and non-English-speaking clients. They developed thousands of affordable housing units and saved and restored historic buildings in Little Tokyo, such as the Union Center for the Arts, resulting in Watanabe receiving the 2007 Preservation Hero Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Watanabe also served as founding chair of Asian & Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation (APIAHiP), which focuses nationally on protecting historic places and cultural resources significant to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Bill has also founded or co-founded a number of important community-based projects such as the grant-making Asian Pacific Community Fund, the Asian Pacific Counseling & Treatment Center, the Little Tokyo Community Council, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking. Through the many projects nurtured by Watanabe, a lasting legacy of community service has been established for generations to come.
"UCLA prepared me for social work and social work helped me to make positive change in the world."