By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
Ten years ago, upon the Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC)’s 30th anniversary, a timeline for the organization was drawn up, but current Executive Director Alaric Bien insists that much more can be added.
For many of the current members of the CISC, the story of how the organization came to be is a kind of urban legend. As CISC approaches its 40th anniversary celebration this year, Bien has appealed to those whose names are on the cover of a social service directory compiled by the founding members in 1973 to fill in the blanks.
The founding members of CISC include active volunteers from 1977 and before; most were local university students at the time. Many of the earliest volunteers refer to John Loo and Liana Fong as the original cofounders. Fong recently unearthed papers that state CISC was incorporated on July 24, 1973. The forms, which survived Fong’s multiple moves from the West to East coast, was signed by Fong and a few others. Loo’s name was not included because he was a foreign student. Founding member Loy Locke recalls driving the long way to Olympia to file the papers.
In 1971, Loo came to Seattle to work on his graduate project at Washington State University. Having witnessed the needs of many Chinese immigrants in the area, Loo and Fong decided to start an organization to provide basic information, translation, and assistance. In 1972, Loo and four or five other volunteers gathered at Fong’s home for meetings and assembled a specialized social services directory using scissors, paper, and glue. Loo was eventually able to secure a formal meeting space at the old Wing Luke museum. From there, the number of volunteers grew. They started a high school students program later that summer.
“I was one of the first group of volunteers who truly saw the needs of the community and spent time after school to provide these services: translation services (whether at the center, at client’s homes, or doctor’s offices and hospital appointments), an English language program, and a Chinese youth program as a summer internship,” said Fong.
“We saw the needs of the Chinese immigrants in America and the need for us to provide them [those services]. It was a matter of finding a location to operate from and finding volunteers. We [were] volunteers, and we mobilized more students to help,” said Loo.
The services of CISC and its membership grew so quickly that the organization risked forgetting its own humble beginnings. In 2002, local newspapers published a conflicting story stating that CISC was founded by a professor and his wife. However, many of the earliest members did not even know the professor or remember him having anything to do with the organization. They aimed to set the record straight.
Former CISC Director Rita Wang recalled that Doug Chin, who wrote and prepared the by-laws and paperwork for CISC’s incorporation, had co-signed one of the papers with the professor for a grant. John Loo looked to a copy of the Wing Luke Museum board meeting minutes from June 1972; the professor was a chairman of the meeting and played a role in approving the new meeting space for the center. But he emphasized that the professor never had anything to do with the center.
In 10 years, since CISC’s 30th anniversary, the organization has continued to grow.
Under the guidance of Bien, CISC expanded its services to the Eastside, to provide culturally appropriate services to Eastside Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Latino, and Russian immigrant communities. The center also established the International Family Center in Kent to serve South-end constituents. CISC added programs like SHIBA (State Health Insurance Benefits Advisors), which counsels community members on health insurance options, and Seattle’s first bilingual Mandarin and English pre-K program.
More importantly, the center accomplished all this while facing a recession, which created an increase in clients and a greater demand in services.
“During CISC’s 40 years of history, there [have been] hundreds of unsung heroes serving as volunteers and board members,” said former CISC Boardmember Frederick Yee.
Yee joined CISC in late 1972, after the organization moved to the Wing Luke location on Eighth Avenue. He recalls the great efforts of past CISC presidents. Wilfred Mar served as one of the first presidents of the organization. Sam Wan, who later became CEO of the Asian elderly health center, Kin On, took over Loo’s position after he returned to Canada to finish his studies. Wan served one term as CISC’s president. Yee served as program committee chair in 1975 while Amy Wong, Lee’s late first wife, was president. In 1997, the organization had enough funding to hire Wang as a permanent director. While other memories may be harder to recall, Yee’s memories surrounding these times are still clear.
“The reason I became involved with CISC was because I enjoyed community work and considered helping the new immigrants and elders in Chinatown something very meaningful. It gives me great pleasure to have witnessed CISC’s growth in the last four decades, and we have now become one of many excellent nonprofit social service agencies serving the Chinese and Asian American community in the Greater Seattle area,” said Yee.
Some of the founding members, including Loo, will be flying in from locations outside of Seattle to attend CISC’s 40th Anniversary Friendship Dinner and Auction on June 2 at the Westin Bellevue. Loo has not stepped foot in Seattle since he left in 1972, and the CISC he will return to has changed greatly.
“There is a Chinese saying [that] opening a business is difficult, but maintaining or expanding it is even more difficult. Of course, the excellent former and current management staff and employees of CISC deserve great credit as well. They make us proud,” said Yee.
“Who would have thought a small volunteer start-up can grow to be this big? It is mind boggling,” said Loo, while viewing a current listing on Google Maps, which shows over 15 CISC program sites throughout Seattle and the Eastside.
“I’m very, very honored and humbled [that] so many people worked hard together to produce such results.” (end)
For more information, visit www.cisc-seattle.org.
Tiffany Ran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.