PIEDMONT -- More than 120 people celebrated International Women's Day at Piedmont Community Hall with a dinner, drinks and a raffle all geared to support two Oakland-based Asian youth organizations.
The $75-per-head March 8 dinner, at which tri-tip steak, Italian meatballs and Himalayan salted block grilled shrimp were just a few items on the long buffet-style menu, was a fundraising event for The Spot Oakland Chinatown Youth Center, which helps young people become youth leaders, and Asian Health Services Youth Program, which provides reproductive health services and counseling to community members ages 12 through 21. The honored guests of the evening were Sherry Hirota, chief executive officer for Asian Health Services; Jennifer Lee, director of community services for Asian Health Services; and Isami Arifuku, senior researcher for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
"This is something we thought would be cool to do on International Women's Day to honor women community leaders," event organizer Michael Lok said. Lok, a Piedmont native and 2002 Piedmont High grad, volunteers for The Spot. "Both organizations we are celebrating while based in Oakland serve not just folks in Oakland but other people from the county who can access the services."
Young people need a safe, friendly and knowledgeable place to get reproductive health care, said Manith Thaing, youth program coordinator for Asian Health Services. The center offers not only clinical services for hundreds of uninsured or underinsured adults but free clinics and counseling to help young people decide if they really do want to be sexually active and offer them advice on how to have healthy, safe relationships free from violence. The center closes its doors to adults from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays to give young people access to the teen clinic.
"We have all these songs out there, the media, the Internet (promoting sex)," Thaing said. "You want to make sure they're making the informed, right and educated choices -- and safe, definitely safe."
Nicole Moralde, 26, volunteers at the Asian Health Services Youth Program to help guide young people into those healthy choices. She said she feels like she is still in touch with her youth and the clients can come to her with questions to get the facts about sex and relationships.
"By starting them early and giving them just the real facts, they are able to be empowered and make decisions about their own health," she said.
The event was co-sponsored by the Piedmont Asian American Club, which helped organizers secure the community center with a lower, city-rate fee. Notable attendees included Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland District 2 councilmember Pat Kernighan and Piedmont Mayor John Chiang, who opened the event with a welcoming speech. Chiang is the chief financial officer of Asian Health Services and said the organization provides medical care in about a dozen languages to children, adults and seniors.
"A lot of the immigrants that do come for our youth services programs aren't as educated about reproductive health," he said. "We also offer prenatal care for those who are uninsured."
The Spot Oakland Chinatown Youth Center has been operating on 13th Street for a little more than a year, but its programs have been six years in the making. Their offerings are targeted to Asian-Pacific Islander youth to learn leadership skills and transition into adulthood free from violence. All nationalities are welcome at The Spot, which is supported by several nonprofit organizations and public entities.
Former Oakland City Councilmember Henry Chang Jr. said he attended the dinner because he's a longtime friend of Asian Health Services and his wife, Connie Chang, is on the board of directors.
"I know them so well that I support anything they do," he said.
Alameda resident Sam Huie came to the event under the advice of his friend. He said he especially appreciates the mission of Asian Health Services.
"I respect what a lot of the people do, especially the physicians that can go into private practice and make way more money but are dedicated to people who can't afford medical care," he said.
Honoree Arifuku of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, which in 2001 conducted a grass roots study on Asian-Pacific Islander youth violence that led to the development of The Spot, was shy about accepting the honor.
"It's very nice to receive it, but I just kind of feel undeserving because there are so many people who do so much more than I do," she said.