We Are the City Spotlight on Asian Pacific American Community Service Center
By APACC’s Program Manager Kirstie Dutton, in collaboration with Program Manager Kelvin Chan and other APACC Staff
The Asian Pacific American Community Center’s mission is to help strengthen Asian Pacific American and Latino families living in Visitacion Valley by providing linguistically and culturally appropriate programs and services. Our clients are mostly low- and moderate-income immigrant families with limited or no English proficiency. The goal of our programs is to ensure that our clients receive support in the form of education, resources, and referrals needed to adapt and become self-sufficient. Our ultimate goal is for families to thrive and our community to be confident, healthy, strong, and safe.
APACC was started in 1999 by a group of Chinese immigrants who saw the lack of support for the Asian immigrant community in Visitacion Valley. Providing social services to our clients has always been the backbone of APACC’s work. Through our culturally and linguistically competent staff, APACC has provided translation services, various giveaways and educational workshops focused on safety, food, and other needs, provided seasonal events such as holiday giveaways and free tax services, and outreached at both local and wider San Francisco events.
APACC has always tried to meet the needs of our community. After observing a lack of youth programs focused on academic support, APACC started its Youth After School and Youth Summer programs in 2016. For the first three years, the youth programs were solely funded by generous donors, APACC’s own funds, and APACC’s staff, who sacrificed as much free time as they could for the development of this program. Our staff persevered through many near closures until we finally received DCYF Out of School Time program funding in 2019. Since then, APACC has grown from serving two total youth in our After School Program and 12 total youth in our Summer Program, to a record 30+ youth in the After School Program and 50+ youth in the Summer Program. APACC will only continue to grow from here!
Unlike the closures we were threatened with in the past, APACC was not shut down for long during the COVID-pandemic. Our social services were critical during this time, especially for many of our clients who had lost their jobs in the service industry and needed to apply for benefits such as unemployment. We closed for a week to allow our team to reorient in-person social services to phone services, then reopened our doors with strict safety measures in place that APACC still follows. APACC also collaborated with local businesses and organizations, including as Senor Sisig, to distribute hot meals on a weekly basis to the community. Several of our staff even coordinated with the SF-Marin Food Bank to open a pantry at the Cow Palace, distributing groceries to hundreds of local community members!
COVID did not stop our youth programming either! In the spring of 2020, our youth team immediately started provided services remotely, connecting with our youth through calls, texts, and the occasional FaceTime. When the summer of 2020 came around, our staff understood that some normalcy was needed for families, so we hosted all-day programming from Monday to Friday for a cohort of 12 youth. Although the kids did not have the field trip filled summer we usually provide, staff implemented many fun activities within our facility.
In the fall of 2020, APACC joined San Francisco’s Community Hubs Initiative, which supported youth who needed assistance getting online and participating in remote learning. Most, if not all, of the youth we served were children of low-income, immigrant parents. These families were not able to provide computer equipment or internet access for their children, and were not able to assist their children with their homework. APACC was able to provide internet and computer equipment to our youth thanks to DCYF and Comcast, and our staff provided homework support for the students in our Community Hub.
As APACC and our youth enthusiastically participated in San Francisco’s Community Hubs Initiative, our youth program’s reputation for focusing on academics and supporting students grew throughout Visitacion Valley. Our community realized how far kids were falling behind because of the pandemic, and the families with children in our program began to spread word to their friends and other families. Thanks to that endorsement, 50+ youth participated in our summer program in 2022, and in the current school year we have 30+ youth enrolled in our After School Program. These are the highest enrollment numbers APACC had since our youth program started in 2016!
One of the major insights APACC gained during the pandemic was that Visitacion Valley was not equipped to support the growing immigrant Latinx community in our neighborhood. Although there are many organizations in Visitacion Valley that have Spanish-speaking staff, there are no dedicated social services or other support services specifically for the Latinx immigrant community. Like the Asian population, the Latinx population was hit very hard by the pandemic because so many families had members who worked in the service industry.
The Latinx families with children in APACC’s youth program and the Latinx families and individuals who participated in our social services programs told us that while they knew they needed support signing up for benefits, they were not comfortable going to the Mission to receive support, and they did not know how to reach out to Latinx-specific organizations. APACC realized that yet again we needed to adapt to meet the needs of the community, this time the immigrant Latinx community. Thanks to generous donors and grants that kept APACC financially healthy during the pandemic, two Spanish-speaking program assistants were hired for the specific purpose of helping connect Latinx families with services. We also worked with our Spanish-speaking program assistants to build a Spanish version of our long-standing social services, which we had initially created to support Visitacion Valley’s Asian community.
APACC believes several key elements make San Francisco a great place to grow up!
The first key is its diversity. We can’t think of any other place that creates the environment where children of different ethnicities, cultures, religions, and economic statuses can interact and learn from each other the way San Francisco does. From the public to private schools, to youth programs inside the schools to community centers, our children grow up with the privilege of learning to understand and appreciate others.
The second key is San Francisco’s easy access to multiple fun places and activities. Thanks to San Francisco’s transportation system and its many partnerships among different entities, our youth and our families have the ability to access free or affordable places such as public parks, the San Francisco Zoo, museums, beaches, and wide variety of food options, and cultural neighborhoods.
The last key is San Francisco’s strong and active support for families. Families — especially low income and immigrant families — would not be able to thrive in San Francisco without the various departments that make up the City’s government. One example is DCYF, which led the charge in creating the Community Hub Initiative during the worst of the pandemic. The Community Hubs ensured that our youth had physical places that supported their remote learning, and provided relief for parents still trying to work during the pandemic while struggling with childcare. Another example is the increased funding APACC received from various San Francisco City Departments, which allowed us to hire our two Spanish-speaking Program Assistants and build a social services program that specifically supports the monolingual Latinx community.
APACC believes the City can continue to do two things to help children, youth, and families thrive.
First, provide more funding for youth programs. Without funding, youth programs can’t compete with private sector companies that can afford to keep qualified, dedicated staff. Youth programs have historically struggled to afford the pay rate required to keep well-educated and qualified people employed enough to pay their bills. APACC has employed amazing staff and has offered employment to very qualified candidates, but many of them have either eventually moved onto higher paying jobs or declined employment with us in favor of a higher paying job. There are a lot of families in San Francisco who need quality youth programs — especially programs that focus on education — but no youth program can function, let alone grow, without keeping dedicated, quality staff.
We — APACC’s co-managers Kelvin Chan and Kirstie Dutton — have been with APACC’s youth program since it started in 2016. There are many parents who are only comfortable speaking with us about their children because of the trusting relationships we have built. The same parents have also seen firsthand the high turnover of our line staff. Keeping and building dedicated, quality staff is important for the continuity and trust that it builds with families. APACC believes that with increased funding for youth programs as a whole, we can counter the notion that people who want to dedicate themselves to their communities have to choose between helping their communities versus choosing higher paying jobs that are much less fulfilling but pay the bills.
The second thing that the City can continue to do is encourage a strong partnership between DCYF and SFUSD. Our families do not operate in silos, and neither do the schools nor youth programs. Families can only thrive and receive the most support when everyone is at the table working together for the benefit of the family. APACC believes the City is more than capable of bringing all entities together to reduce a service and education gap for all of our youth who are struggling academically, socially, and mentally.
APACC strongly believes that an unyielding commitment to serving a community in dire need is of the utmost importance. Teamwork, luck, and the right people in place have contributed the most to our organization’s success. Although APACC began in 1999, it did not start to see growth until the three Chen sisters became involved as board members. Pearl Chen, an educator, worked on the ground to oversee APACC’s daily operations; Myriam Chen, a business owner, aggressively sought out funding to make sure APACC stayed afloat; and Christina Chen, an attorney, who passed away last year, always made sure that APACC was in legal compliance with the funding sources’ policy, as well as following its mission of supporting the Visitacion Valley community.
APACC’s commitment and dedication to service excellence motivated folks living in the Visitacion Valley community to establish an “APACC Club” to further strengthen and support the scope of APACC’s social activities. Club members have volunteered in many APACC’s social activities, as well as constantly promoting APACC’s good work via word of mouth.
APACC would not have been sustainable and successful without the selfless dedication of its Executive Director, Rex Tabora, at its helm. Mr. Tabora transformed APACC from a little known, limited-service organization, into an established, widely known, and respected organization known for a multi-services approach, fiscal discipline, and excellent service delivery.
In 2016, APACC hired the core trio of dedicated staff who went on to become managers under Mr. Tabora’s strong leadership. Between Mr. Tabora and Admin Manager Carrie Lui, APACC had a duo team who assisted our Board to responsibly manage our cash flow and financial health. Co-Managers Kirstie Dutton and Kelvin Chan had a combined 20 years of experience in youth/community programming when they started with APACC. Mr. Tabora had the luck of finding Mr. Chan while he was an undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco. Mr. Chan is bilingual Chinese-speaking, and just happened to live close to Visitacion Valley. Mr. Tabora met Ms. Dutton while working at West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service Center, and brought her to APACC to help Mr. Chan create APACC’s youth program. Our team struggled for the first few years, doing whatever we could to keep APACC’s youth program afloat, until we were awarded City funding for our youth programs in 2018.
None of this growth and success could have happened without APACC’s Board, which added several key members who were very invested in APACC’s success. APACC’s Board is made up of educators, lawyers, business owners, and real estate developers who work together to make sure APACC is always fulfilling its mission and responsibly managing its finances. Staff, Executive Director, and Board work cohesively toward the betterment of both APACC and the community, and APACC is confident of it only growing more as word continues to spread of the quality of its staff and services. APACC aims to eventually have its own dedicated space within Visitacion Valley so that it can provide more services to its families.