By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Alan “Al” Sugiyama has had the same job for 30 years. As executive director of the Center for Career Alternatives (CCA), he helped create and foster spaces where disadvantaged adults and youth in King and Snohomish counties can go for free education, employment, and career training.
“But it’s time to get out there and explore,” the 60-year-old said. “It was never the right time to leave, and things have come up along the way,” Sugiyama said. “I decided that I had to leave and take a look at what else might be out there and what other challenges I might get into.”
He said he didn’t even think he would be at the CCA for so long, after establishing it in 1979. The organization started small — with one office and two staff members. By 2009, it expanded to five offices with locations in Kent and Everett, 24 programs, and 43 staff members. More than 26,000 King and Snohomish county residents have been served, according to the CCA website.
For now, Sugiyama said he’s keeping his options open. While he officially announced his retirement three weeks ago, he hasn’t had much time to consider his next move.
“I’m looking into what my next chapter will be,” he said. “I’m looking at what other position I could get myself into to make the community a better place.”
Working with the community isn’t new for Sugiyama. He co-founded the Asian Family Affair newspaper in 1972. He actively promoted Asian American history education throughout the 70s and ending misrepresentation of Asian Americans in the media.
Then in 1989, Sugiyama was the first Asian American elected to the Seattle School Board. While serving as the board’s president, he was among community leaders who oversaw the dismantling of the Seattle busing program.
Sugiyama said he will continue working with the CCA, but on a volunteer basis. As founding director, Sugiyama’s focus will be on fundraising — something he said is becoming more important for the CCA’s survival.
Slashed government budgets left deep cuts in nonprofit organizations — many of which are still stinging the CCA and its programs.
Records show that the decline in funding started in 2007. The CCA was awarded $2,818,388 in 2006 and $3,339,205 in 2007. But program costs alone spiked from $2,380,851 in 2006 to $2,999,354 in 2007. The CCA was given $520,817 more in 2007, but its program expenses had jumped $618,503.
Programs such as the high school credit retrieval program may have to be cut due to lack of funding, said Peter Tsai, who is the new executive director of the CCA. The program gives at-risk youth, who dropped out of school or are on the verge of doing so, a place to obtain high school credit for attending off-campus classes.
Seattle Public Schools, which would annually award the CCA $130,000, has reduced its funding to the CCA’s high school credit retrieval program to $30,000.
“We are hopefully going to have some discussions with the school district this summer,” Tsai said. “We are not going to be able to run it at the [current] funding levels. That’s one of the programs that would go away because we can’t afford to subsidize it anymore.”
The CCA’s Everett services have been handed over to another nonprofit chosen by the Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County.
Tsai said that, instead of growing, the CCA is focusing back on its employment, education, and training programs.
“A lot of nonprofits are feeling the pinch,” he said. “That additional general support is not there anymore. We’ve had to take some serious positions … and we can only offer programs that are going to be able to sustain themselves rather than having to rely on additional funding.”
Nervous, yet excited to face the challenge, Tsai is moving from working directly with youth at the CCA to taking the lead in building and maintaining partnerships with community groups such as Goodwill and the YMCA, which have strengthened the organization’s core programs.
“The CCA is here to stay,” Tsai said. “We’re here for the long term. The services we’ve been providing are something that the community has always appreciated and valued. Without those, there would be a void.” ♦
The Center for Career Alternatives is located in Seattle at 901 Rainier Avenue South and in Kent at 13111 Southeast 274th Street. Learn more about the CCA at www.ccawa.org.
Vivian Luu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.