By Stephanie Ikeda,
On October 26th, over 800 guests attended the 45th Anniversary Benefit Gala and Auction of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue. The ballroom was packed with elected officials, local groups, and longtime friends of the organization which started in 1973 as a grassroots, all-volunteer service meeting Asian immigrant clients in need. ACRS has since grown from a volunteer group seeing 70 clients a year to over 270 staff members who combined speak over 40 languages to serve 35,000 clients a year. The organization’s multilingual programs cover a wide range, from immediate need services such as food banks and medical care to social services such as career help, youth development, and immigration assistance.
ACRS was founded to address the needs of an Asian immigrant community suffering due to displacement, language barriers and other systematic inequalities, and the night’s programming highlighted how crucial these services remain today. Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants are the fastest growing population in Washington State and the nation, which ACRS approaches through both culturally sensitive and multilingual services as well as civic engagement and advocacy on behalf of all immigrants.
Many speakers including U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal paid tribute to the role of retiring Executive Director Diane Narasaki as not just an organizational leader but also a respected community leader and advocate. Much of the night was devoted to paying tribute to Ms. Narasaki’s 23 years of service and leadership. Rep. Jayapal presented Ms. Narasaki with an official Congressional Record thanking her for her service, referring to her as a “warrior for human rights.”
Adding to the celebratory nature of the event, fundraising efforts during the event were wildly successful. Popular silent and live auctions raised thousands, and a huge contribution of 330,000 dollars donated during the Raise the Paddle event far surpassed the evening’s goals. It was on this high note that awards were presented to ACRS’ community partners, and Ms. Narasaki herself thanked and recognized the efforts of the community in the past 45 years. The night ended with a symbolic passing of the torch to incoming Executive Director Michael Byun, who had previously headed a similar organization in Ohio. Mr. Byun focused on the organization’s political engagement in his speech. ACRS spent its early days organizing resistance to welfare reforms that hurt the Asian community, and Mr. Byun’s speech signaled that ACRS is ready to carry on the legacy of defending the civil rights of vulnerable communities.