In an in depth interview with A3M’s Project Director of four years Shin Ito, highlights the A3M’s dedication to the Little Tokyo community as well as Asian American health issues.
Shin Ito is currently the Director at Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches, A3M. A3M is a recruitment center for the Be The Match Registry and is in its 21st year of adding life-saving donors to the marrow registry. A3M’s mission is to improve the health and welfare of all people by providing education and assistance while facilitating prompt access to potential marrow and blood cell donors.
Shin has been with A3M for 4 years. He joined A3M as the Associate Director and was appointed as the Director in August of 2011. He currently oversees a staff of 13 dedicated, passionate, and hard working people. Last year, A3M celebrated its 20 year anniversary. The theme for this milestone was “Celebrating 20 years of saving lives….the miracle continues”. It is because of the many supporters in the community that A3M was able to celebrate its 20 year anniversary. As A3M enters a new decade, Shin looks forward to connecting with his community friends to promote awareness about the need for marrow donors, to insure that the miracle continues.
Q: Who were the founders?
A: Sharon Sugiyama, Kathy Ninomiya, Bill Watanabe, Yukio Shimomura
Q: Are any of them still involved?
A: Sharon just retired last July, she had been director for most of the first 20 years. Bill was executive director at LTSC and just retired this year. He was active in his support. Kathy is not nearly as active as she was when they first started, but she still is supportive. Yukio logistically can’t be present because he lives in the bay area.
Q: How did A3M start?
A: Sharon and Kathy had nephew who needed a match back in around 1990, but when it turned out that at times fewer than 5000 Asian American donors were in the national registry, and there was no match for him, they got the family together to see what they could do. As a family did local drives in the area; however, he passed away. They had also contacted Bill during that time and had asked about ways to get involved in the community. After their nephew’s death, Bill contacted them and asked what they wanted to do, if they wanted to move forward or let it go and move on. They wanted to continue and try to make a difference for others.
Q: Who are your organization’s primary supporters?
A: The bulk of our funding comes from the national program, National Marrow Donor Program. As for other support, a lot of support from LTSC, our fiscal agent, we operate under their 501C3 and non profit status. We also get support from a lot of companies and corps in the community because we serve at least 7 different ethnic communities, which is different from other organizations that focus on one specific ethnic community.
Q: What are the long-term goals of your organization?
A: To continue to add as many potential life saving donors to the registry which will in turn mean that more patients in need of a match will hopefully find a match. That’s the reason why we’re still here. Even though there are now many more donors than there were, now almost 700,000 donors.
Q: What are the current projects or initiatives that your organization is working on?
A: Right now in July, it’s African American bone marrow awareness month. We’re still a part of that, most of our projects are based on current patients who are searching, we work with them and their family and friends to promote awareness and register more people. An ongoing project is educating youth who aren’t eligible to register until they’re 18. We’re still working with youth athletic programs so that when they’re 18 they can make a decision they’re comfortable with around joining the registry.
Q:What do you think are your organization’s biggest accomplishments, strengths or achievements?
A: Strengths are our staff and volunteers, we have literally hundreds of volunteers who help them and thousands through the year, without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. As for accomplishments, since our existence, we are the top API recruitment center for the National Registry with regards to adding API donors. So we’re proud of that and we’ve added more API donors than any other organization.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles that your organization has faced?
A: Like all non-profits now we’re facing financial challenges, our budget is being cut all over. Another one is that we need to continue to educate the community and promote awareness about the need. For example, even when people have already registered, many of them do not follow through and change their mind. That’s something we have to do a better job in educating them and maybe they didn’t get enough information [when they registered], right now it’s at 50% of people who move forward [to donate]. We need to educate them about being comfortable with being a donor
Q: What have you learned from your experience with A3M?
A: To not take everyday for granted and to appreciate everyday, because I’ve been lucky. I’ve only been here four years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of Asians and what amazes me is that though some of them passed on they all inspire me to move on and appreciate everyday. They had such a great outlook on life; some of them did not have a second chance.
Q: How has the current mission or direction of your organization changed from the mission or direction at the start of your organization?
A: Our basic mission hasn’t changed, it’s been tweaked a little bit in that research has shown that transplant doctors prefer younger donors, so our focus has changed and we’re trying to add more younger donors, 18-44 year olds, to the registry.
Q: Do you foresee any major or minor changes in the organization over the next 10 years?
A: Probably just with internet and social media, there are more opportunities to do things there, registering people but also educating people and promoting awareness
Q: How do you see the relationship between your organization and Little Tokyo, and do you expect that relationship to change?
A: I think it’ll [the relationship] grow. We do work in at least 7 communities, so one thing that we can do a better job of working in Little Tokyo. We’ve gone away from doing a lot in the community, and that’s something we want to change and be a presence in the Little Tokyo community.