Grounded in her grandparents’ World War II incarceration experience, Stephanie Nitahara is passionate about creating a just society through education and activism. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, she attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she became involved with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) as part of their National Youth/Student Council (NY/SC). Through the NY/SC she discovered her love for Nikkei and Asian Pacific Islander youth organizing, leadership, and program development.
That passion became her career, moving to Los Angeles in 2012 to work for JACL as the Pacific Southwest Regional Director, and later Interim Executive Director and Associate Director. While at JACL she was involved with several projects including youth leadership and program development, education programs centered around the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II and Redress Movement, and fund development. Stephanie also has served on organizing committees for Little Tokyo community programs including Okaeri: A Nikkei LGBTQ Gathering (2014, 2016, and 2018), the Los Angeles Day of Remembrance program, and is currently the Membership Chair for the Little Tokyo Community Council.
Stephanie has found her community home in Little Tokyo and is excited continue working in the vibrant, diverse, and evolving Nikkei community as part of the Kizuna team.
Taylor develops and implements the programs in Kizuna's pipeline, including the Nikkei Community Internship, of which she is a proud alumni of the 2017 class. She enjoys writing curriculum that empowers young people to explore their identities and use their unique strengths to contribute to the community.
Working in Little Tokyo has proved to be a full-circle experience for Taylor. She cites her childhood visits to JANM, where she learned about the kinds of stories that weren’t documented in her history books, as a major influence in shaping her passions for cultural preservation, education, and storytelling.
In addition to her nonprofit work, Taylor also freelances as a writer specializing in AAPI stories. Her work has appeared in publications such as Teen Vogue, HelloGiggles, and OC Weekly, and she regularly contributes to NBC Asian America. She currently writes the column "That Looks Like Me" on Asian Americans in the media for the Rafu Shimpo.
Taylor graduated from UC Irvine in 2015 with B.A.s in Asian American Studies and Literary Journalism.
Mia Barnett is the Development Coordinator for Kizuna, strategizing development and organizing fundraising events throughout the year.
Growing up in the Midwest, Mia did not have much exposure to Japanese and Japanese American culture outside of the annual visits from her grandmother. While studying film and political science at Kenyon College, she took Japanese language classes in order to connect with her heritage. To further her studies, she spent a semester abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo in 2014.
After graduation, Mia was drawn to Los Angeles because of the strong Japanese American culture. Through attending Tuesday Night Cafe, Obon festivals, and other Little Tokyo events, she became inspired to work more closely with the Japanese American community.
Prior to Kizuna, Mia worked at Interloper Films and BuzzFeed. At BuzzFeed, she led the Asian American employee group, where she discovered her passion of empowering the next generation of Asian Americans.
In her free time, Mia enjoys traveling, cross stitching, playing clarinet in a community orchestra, and trying new restaurants.
Andie Ritter is graduating this fall from UC San Diego with a bachelors degree in sociology. Without much involvement with the Japanese American community throughout her life, Andie wanted to become more connected and involved. She joined Summer Camp as a counselor and it was an extremely rewarding experience for her.
Other than school and work, one of Andie’s favorite things to do is travel. She loves to explore new places and get to learn about their cultures. Traveling has taught Andie many different things and opened up her mind.
Andie believes that it is important to keep Japanese American culture and history alive. Kizuna has given her the opportunity to help the younger generations understand and love their Japanese heritage and community. She is very excited to join Kizuna as the Administrative Assistant and give back.
Amy Watanabe specializes in community engagement, communications strategy and partnership building at Nakatomi & Associates, a Los Angeles based communications firm, that uses the power of communications and different forms of media to inspire positive change and social impact for its mission-driven clients. She is also the Associate Producer for the Mineta Legacy Project, a documentary and educational curriculum profiling the life and career of Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.
Amy has worked with local and national non-profit organizations, and spent time in Washington, D.C., doing advocacy work and developing the political pipeline and leadership for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Through her community involvement and professional career, she continues to advocate for increased diversity and opportunities, especially for people of color, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and women.
Amy was born and raised in Los Angeles, and received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and minor in Asian American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Amy serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Kizuna; Board Secretary for National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, Vice-President of Venice-West Los Angeles Chapter of Japanese American Citizens League; and on the Steering Committee for US-Japan Council’s Emerging Leaders Program. Amy was selected for the 2018 US-Japan Council TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program.
Megan's engagement with Kizuna began more than a decade ago as a former program participant and volunteer instructor. She is committed to providing the next generation of Japanese Americans with the same transformative leadership opportunities she received through Kizuna's pipeline of programs.
Megan is currently in her second year of candidacy at the University of Southern California's Sol Price school of Public Policy, attaining her M.A. in Nonprofit Leadership & Management with a certificate in Social Innovation. In addition to full-time graduate school, Megan works as the Graduate Associate at the City Scholars® Foundation and serves on a nonprofit-focused research consulting team with fellow USC grad students and faculty.
Prior to graduate school, Megan oversaw fundraising initiatives at the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden and worked for the Los Angeles Lakers' Community Relations department. Megan earned her B.A. in Communication Studies and Marketing from CSU Long Beach, where she also served as president of the Nikkei Student Union. Megan remains active as an advocate and volunteer for many nikkei community-based organizations including the New Generation Nikkei Fund, Nisei Week Foundation and Orange County Buddhist Church.
Kari Kadomatsu is an Orange County native where she received her B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Irvine and JD/MBA from Chapman University. In 2013, she relocated to Downtown Los Angeles to join the law firm of Seki Nishimura & Watase, LLP. Through her work at the firm, Kari gained an appreciation for the importance of community involvement and taking advantage of opportunities to give back. This eventually led to an introduction to Kizuna.
Prior to joining the board, Kari participated in the Next Generation Leadership program offered by Kizuna and continued her involvement by serving on several committees including for the annual Showdown and Kizuna's 5th Anniversary celebration. Additionally, along with the SNW firm, Kari assisted Kizuna in acquiring its 501c(3) and state exemption status.
In her free time, Kari enjoys annual Mammoth fishing trips with her family, exploring downtown while walking her puppy, Miso, and trying the newest and most delicious happy hours.
Brandon Masashige Leong is the Vice President of Development at Go For Broke National Education Center where he oversees donor relations, special events, annual giving, and communications. Prior to his role at GFBNEC, Brandon started his career in the Japanese American community in 2006 as Program Director at East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center. Most recently, he served as Director of Programs and Strategic Partnerships at Keiro.
An Eagle Scout, Brandon is an active volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America. He served two years as course director of the National Youth Leadership Training program for the Boy Scouts and now serves as the area coordinator for youth leadership development, overseeing training for the Southern California area. He has served as a troop scoutmaster and on staff for numerous training courses.
In addition to serving on Kizuna’s board, Brandon previously served as a member of the ESGVJCC Board of Directors and president of the Sabers/Saberettes Youth Basketball Organization.
Brandon Okita is currently the Vice President at FIA Insurance Services, Inc., whom he joined after graduating from the University of California, Irvine. In addition to his responsibilities as a risk manager and trusted advisor to his clients, Brandon has also been very involved in both his local, state and federal insurance associations, having served as the President of the Los Angeles chapter of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Association, Chair of California state association’s Young Brokers & Agents committee, and currently serving on the Diversity Council for the National Big “I” Association. Outside of the insurance industry, Brandon also serves as a fundraising committee member for the Budokan of Los Angeles, which is a multi-purpose gym that recently broke ground in Little Tokyo and also serves as the Co-Director for the LABCC Youth Camp, which is a weeklong volunteer run summer youth camp in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Jill oversees risk management and legal affairs for the organization. Her private practice focuses on estate and tax planning, trust administration/litigation, and probate.
Jill developed a strong sense of devotion for the non-profit sector as a beneficiary of a goodwill ambassador program with the Nisei Week Foundation nearly 10 years ago. This experience gave her a deep appreciation for how non-profits seek to better the community and the lives of those around her. Today, Jill continues to be a strong advocate of non-profit organizations by providing pro bono legal services at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County as well as sitting on the board of a youth organization called Gardena Evening Optimist Club.
Candice Shikai is an associate attorney at Bowman & Brooke LLP, where she focuses her practice on products liability and complex general liability defense.
Candice joined the Kizuna Board in 2019. She is on the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA) Board of Governors, the JABA Educational Foundation Board of Directors, and is a co-chair of the JABA Young Lawyers Group.
Before attending law school, Candice worked for the U.S. Japan Council and played taiko while living in Los Angeles and in Honolulu, Hawaii. As a Boyle Heights native, Candice grew up in and around Little Tokyo, attending kendo tournaments, Nisei Week, and other community events with her family. She obtained her J.D. from UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and her B.A. from UCLA, where she was a member of the Nikkei Student Union, Kyodo Taiko, and the Asian Pacific Coalition.
Janet Hiroshima is the Associate Director of
Stewardship at UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. Janet oversees the donor relations and stewardship activities for UCLA Engineering and works to create opportunities for donors to experience the impact of their gift to the school through events and engagement with students.
Prior to working at UCLA Engineering, she was at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) for over seven years, most recently, as the Development Manager. At the JACCC, Janet worked in various roles for the organization on programs, fundraising and special events focused on building community through arts and culture. During college, she was a member of the CSULB Nikkei Student Union and after graduation she participated in the Nikkei Community Internship (NCI), a program now run by Kizuna, at the Little Tokyo Service Center. Janet currently serves as the Vice-Chair on the Kizuna Board of Directors and is dedicated to continuing to build community through the engaging the next generation.
Janet was born and raised in San Jose, California. She earned her B.A. in Human Development and a certificate in Gerontology from Cal State Long Beach and her master’s degree in Public Administration with a certificate in Nonprofit Management from Cal State Northridge.
Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama, MPA, PHR is the Assistant Director, Human Resources at Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). She is an University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate and received her Masters in Public Administration from Cal State Northridge. Mickie is a bilingual-bicultural Shin-Nisei and was born and raised in South Pasadena. Mickie became involved in the JA Community at UCLA where she served as the External Vice President ('06-'07) and President of the Nikkei Student Union ('07-'08). During this time, she was a leader in the Intercollegiate Nikkei Council, co-chairing the ReVISIONS Nikkei Youth Conference in 2006. She served as an Event Co-Chair of Kizuna’s Annual Family Showdown from 2011 - 2016 and as a workshop facilitator from 2011 - 2014. She is currently the chair of the Board of Governance committee. As a mom to her now toddler, Mickie's passion to challenge the next generation to find their multi-cultural identity and encourage community engagement is now even stronger. She looks forward to having her daughter be a part of the 2024 class of Nikkei Discovery Camp.
Stacy Toyota works in human resources at NBCUniversal where she serves as a business partner to employees at E! News &Digital. Stacy previously worked in other HR roles at the company working with USA Network, Syfy, Cable Studios, and recruiting interns company-wide.
Prior to NBCUniversal, Stacy worked at various non-profit organizations in Little Tokyo in development as well as programming for high school and college students. It was through this work thatStacy and some of her peers realized there was a need for more involvement in the community from the next generation. This led to creating the organization that is now Kizuna, where she currently serves on the board. Stacy is also member of the NewGeneration Nikkei Fund, a consortium of leaders based in the three remaining Japantowns whose goal is to build a new generation ofJapanese American and Asian American philanthropists.
Stacy is a native Angeleno with a BA in Human Development from UCSan Diego. It was at UCSD where her passion for serving theJapanese American community was incited by her involvement with theNikkei Student Union.
Tiffany is a Research and Development Food Technologist and Project Manager at JSL Foods, Inc., a third generation Japanese American family-owned food manufacturer. She manages projects for various retail, industrial, and food service customers and enjoys working to see each idea progress from bench top innovation to full-scale production and distribution. Prior to her role at JSL Foods, Inc., Tiffany worked in Quality Assurance/Quality Control for Nagatanien USA.
Tiffany grew up playing (and continues to play) in JA basketball leagues, but her first real introduction to the Little Tokyo community was through USC’s Nikkei Student Union where she served as a board member for 2 years. After graduating and moving away from the downtown area, she became involved with the Nisei Week Foundation in order to stay connected to Little Tokyo. Over the several years since then, she has developed a deeper appreciation for this unique and resilient community while continuing to volunteer for organizations such as the Nisei Week Foundation, Kizuna, JACCC, and Terasaki Budokan. Tiffany also serves on the Executive Committee for the Gardena Evening Optimist Club, a youth service organization.
Tiffany graduated from the University of Southern California where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. She then went on to receive her Masters in Food Science from Chapman University.