A message from Ryan Kawamoto, Executive Director of Yu-Ai Kai
“Did you see the moonwalking bear?” At a recent meeting for my managers, I showed a video that opens with instructions to count the number of times a ball gets passed around amongst two basketball teams passing two balls. With the distraction of the balls, no one saw a man dressed as a bear moonwalking across the screen.
I was introduced to the Center for Excellence in Nonprofits (CEN) through their Executive Director Roundtable – where over bagels and coffee every month, I engaged with other nonprofit leaders to discuss best practices. I quickly learned the value of peer support, so I’d like to say that I jumped at the opportunity to expand this learning by enrolling in the more intensive CEN Leaders Institute Program. Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. While I like to break stereotypes by not being good at math, in this case, the math was obvious. As a new Executive Director, I was working sixteen to twenty hour days, including weekends, so committing to eight hours away from my office every month seemed absolutely out of the question.
"CEN has not taught me how to work harder...
CEN has taught me how to work smarter"
However, the program’s mission to “foster highly effective leaders and vibrant nonprofits that transform the quality of life in our communities” convincingly spoke to me. I soon learned that the secret behind the program’s success is a curriculum that utilizes customized tools in a space that allows for strong friendships to form. I can’t share how many times I’ve run into the wrong room for our training sessions, only to find the correct room by following the sound of laughter from my cohorts.
I am the Executive Director of Yu-Ai Kai, a senior community center serving over 3,000 seniors and their families annually in San Jose Japantown for the past forty-one years. I love walking through our sliding doors to hear the beautiful cacophony of preschoolers singing in our Senior Day Services Program, where the majority of our participating seniors suffer from dementia, or the rhythmic stomping of feet to pop music from our Zumba class, or laughter emanating from our kitchen as our lunch program aides joke about the hairdos they can create with hairnets.
Yu Ai-Kai - enhanced fitness class for seniors
Once, I spent almost 72 hours straight with our fund development manager working on a grant, when she shared that a senior came in and apologized to one of our front desk receptionists. The senior said, "I'm so sorry my donation is late, but I needed to pay my dental bill." Yu-Ai Kai's motto is "friendship and love," and if that isn't friendship and love, then I don't know what is.
Nonetheless, sixteen to twenty-hour days is not sustainable, and that’s where CEN has come to my rescue. CEN has not taught me how to work harder – CEN has taught me how to work smarter. Through one of the customized assessments, CEN taught me that I needed to implement more team-building exercises focused on awareness at my manager meetings… which brings me back to the moonwalking bear.
“Did you see the moonwalking bear?” In that meeting, after asking that question, I explained to my managers that for me the video is about the awareness of others – the awareness of our collective role as an organization and sector to not just be good, but to be great because we serve seniors who donate even on a limited income. Often times, we can be so myopically focused on counting the times the basketball is passed in our day to day roles that we lose this awareness. CEN has taught me how to be more aware of the moonwalking bear, and in doing so, has better equipped me to have Yu-Ai Kai’s motto of friendship and love ring stronger than ever before. Thank you, CEN.