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.
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 T 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.
Shawn was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley attending both San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and Senshin Buddhist Temple. He became Co-President for the Jr. Youth Buddhist Association from 2008-2010, where he had organized the Southern District Jr. Youth Buddhist Association Conference. After high school, he started working at different school sites in the Los Angeles Unified School District as an after-school coach to campus aide to moving his way up to an aide for special needs children. Simultaneously, he started to volunteer his time as a counselor for Los Angeles Buddhist Coordinating Council in the summer, which he has worked for the past decade.
In 2015, Shawn brought his talents to Kizuna starting as a counselor then, in 2017, becoming a Co-Director of the San Fernando Valley Summer Camp, along with Aya Shigenaga. Through their work as co-directors, they have given the Japanese American children from the Valley a sense of pride and hominess in the community with the love they provide at the camp.
Shawn is thrilled to join Kizuna’s team as a program coordinator working on the Leadership, Service Learning and Internship programs!
Elaine Hang is the Program & Administrative Coordinator for Kizuna, with the biggest love for organizing and spreadsheets.
Elaine is 1.5 generation Vietnamese American who lived almost all around the Southwest. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, she developed a passion for illuminating and celebrating the experiences of Asian Americans. She's a big fan of storytelling and animation, and wanted to share that love with young folks. So in 2017, Elaine became a student teacher for Summerbridge Hong Kong, a non-profit organization which offers English Language Development programs for underprivileged students in Hong Kong since 1992. She worked with fellow teachers to support local students in growing their love for learning, confidence with English, and leadership skills. She taught students the essential components of storytelling through animated films, creative writing, and acting games.
Elaine's love for storytelling motivated her to major in English and Political Science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where she highlighted community narratives about/written by Asian Americans whenever she had the chance. She is also involved with Tuesday Night Project, a grassroots and volunteer-based organization bringing together storytelling, art, and community in Little Tokyo since 1998. Elaine also has many likes and hobbies which includes houseplants and astrology.
Daniel Yaguchi is a second year student at Pasadena City College. From a young age the Japanese American community had always been a major part of his life. He attended preschool at Nishi Hongwanji, played basketball for the Hollywood Dodgers, was a camper at the Los Angeles Buddhist Coordinating Council (LABCC) summer camp program, and was a member of Nishi’s Junior Young Buddhist Association (Jr. YBA). During his free time outside of work and school Daniel enjoys spending time with friends, family, and playing taiko. Daniel has been playing taiko for five years as part of the LA Taiko Ichiza performance group, performing at numerous events throughout the year.
Daniel’s first experience with Kizuna had opened up many opportunities for him and gave him a stronger passion for being involved in the community. In 2017 he was a counselor for their summer camp program. It was so meaningful and fulfilling that he has continued to volunteer not only for Kizuna, but for Keiro, JACCC, and any other opportunities that came his way. Prior to working for Kizuna, Daniel worked as the development intern at JACCC. With such a well-established connection to the community, Daniel is very excited to continue his experience as Kizuna’s Marketing Assistant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.