Left: ACLF alumni, board members and trainers at their 2009 annual graduation dinner. Photo courtesy ACLF, Joysha Fajardo Photography.

Carmella Ennis, King County Council. Dale Watanabe, Office of International Affairs at Seattle University. Anna Kim Novakowski, The Max Foundation.

They may be working in different fields around Seattle, but they have at least one thing in common: they are all alumni of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF), an 11-year-old non-profit that has not only developed a strong network of Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs), but has boosted the Asian American community’s visibility and influence in local politics and beyond.

The foundation was established in 1998 by local APIs to address a need for a space that would support and cultivate young API leaders, said Cherry Cayabyab, ACLF’s executive director.

The following community members founded the ACLF: Jeffrey Hattori, Michael Latimer, Doris Lock, Akemi Matsumoto, Jill Nishi, Diana Sheythe, Sue Taoka, Kip Tokuda, Trang Tu and Joan Yoshitomi.

“They wanted an organization that would provide leadership training that was grounded on values of social justice, community involvement and public service,” Cayabyab said of the charter members. “It was all volunteer-based at first.”

The ACLF now boasts more than 130 program alumni through its Community Leadership Program (CLP). They hold positions anywhere from local government to nationwide nonprofits, religious leadership positions and minority affairs. Others have gone on to start and develop private businesses.

Grace Kong is a program manager at YouthSource, which provides education, employment and leadership development for young adults who drop out of high school. She is part of ACLF’s 2008 graduating class.

“What I took from the program was more community building and community connections,” she said. “I [know] quite a few wonderful people in my CLP 2008 cohort and maintained community relationships with many of them.”

Debudatta Dash is part of the ACLF’s 2005 graduating class. He is co-chair of the Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASITRAC) and board member of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). He is also on the Equity and Pluralism Advisory Board at Bellevue College.

“ACLF was the launching pad for me to learn about the local Asian community and its leaders from a very close angle,” he said. “I came to know so many leaders in a very short period of time and understand their perspectives building the community through activism and volunteerism.”

The networking opportunities were impressive at every event and program, he added.

Through its alumni, the ACLF has also reached out to other organizations in Washington. Involved in not only API events and groups, the ACLF has helped programs aimed at building and improving other minority groups.

African American and Latino community programs, for example, have sought to replicate the ACLF’s leadership education model.

Founders sought to “holistically help build individual leadership skills on a community level,” Cayabyab said. “We’ve become the space, the go-to organization for talented, committed leaders and activists committed to community values.”

Join the country’s only non-profit Pan-Asian American news organization in honoring our community’s unsung heroes: Outstanding Organization – the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF); Vu Le who is earning the Tatsuo Nakata Youth Award; Cassie Chinn who is honored for her work at the Wing Luke Asian Museum; and Sharon Maeda for the Lifetime Achievement Award. These deserving individuals are testament to the on-going sacrifice and courage it takes to preserve a people, uplift its community and advocate for its needs. The IE shares in this celebration and hope you’ll join us in this month of May which serves as  APA Heritage Month – a time of commemoration and honor. Purchase Tickets Here

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