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United Way Reaches Out to Asians : Charity Opening Its Doors, Purse Strings to Minorities

November 08, 1985|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles area United Way will distribute $60 million to nearly 400 agencies this year, but only seven charities controlled by Asian-Americans will share in the proceeds, receiving $293,000 or less than .5% of United Way's money.

But that may change soon because United Way Inc., has begun opening its top volunteer and staff positions--and its purse--to the rapidly growing numbers of Asian and Pacific Islands peoples in Los Angeles County, partly in the hope that they will become a significant new source of donations.

Growing Populations

In what President Francis X. McNamara Jr. called a "bold step," United Way Inc., published a report this week documenting the diversity of the growing populations of Asian and Pacific Island peoples who live here.

Entrepreneur Lilly V. Lee, who sits on the United Way Inc., board and chairs its Asian Pacific Research and Development Council, and other council members said they hope the report will lead to United Way Inc. involving more Asian Pacific peoples, especially as top-level volunteers who can exercise power on behalf of their diverse communities' needs.

They said they expect this will prompt more donations as a wider segment of the county's populace feels it has a stake in United Way Inc. The Los Angeles area United Way, which is seeking $86 million for 1986, ranks first in total dollars raised among all United Ways, but among the 25 largest United Ways it is a distant 24th in funds raised per capita.

The Asian Pacific Resource and Development Council leaders said they also hope the report will prompt United Way Inc. and local corporations to significantly increase funding of nonprofit organizations controlled by Asian Pacific peoples. They characterized the current level of support as "token funding."

Past United Way projects involving Asian Pacifics have run into serious difficulties, notably United Way's creation of the Asian Voluntary Action Center. The center, which sparked friction with other Asian Pacific charities, folded when United Way withdrew its support two years ago.

But Wednesday night nearly 200 people, half of them Asian Pacifics, turned out for an upbeat reception to introduce the report. George F. Moody, the Security Pacific National Bank president who as a United Way Inc. director has been among those most supportive of involving a wider array of ethnic groups in the federated fund-raising organization, hosted the reception on the 53rd floor of his firm's Bunker Hill skyscraper.

Based on extrapolations of the Census Bureau and other data, the chart-filled "Pacific Rim Profiles" and a 100-page technical report focus on the eight largest groups of Asian and Pacific Islands peoples in the county. The report estimates that as many as 792,000 Asian Pacifics live in Los Angeles County, more than triple the 238,000 counted in the 1970 census.

Lee said she believes the official data significantly undercount new immigrants and that today 14% of the county's 8 million residents, about 1.1 million people, are Asian Pacifics.

While overall Asian Pacifics incomes and education levels are slightly higher than for the county as a whole, the study also identified serious mental health, social and economic problems among specific groups, notably recent immigrants and refugees.

Formal Education

One in four Vietnamese adults, for example, has less than eight years of formal education. Wife beating is culturally accepted among some Asian Pacific groups, the study said, and many immigrants and refugees who held professional positions in their native lands cannot get licensed here. The report said a serious shortage of adult English language classes prevents many new arrivals from acquiring language skills vital to obtaining good-paying jobs.

"Most people think we have money to burn," said David Chen, a council member who directs the Diho Service Center for Asian immigrants in Monterey Park, "but for every Asian person you see with money to burn there is another in desperate need of help."

"You can't ignore the issues once the facts are documented in black and white," said Leland Wong, the United Way planner who staffs the Asian Pacific Research and Development Council.

Lee and others praised Wong, saying that when United Way cracked open its door to Asian Pacifics, Wong took the initiative in recruiting leaders who would come into United Way as volunteers, opening the door wider for others.

"Now that the door is open we're going to keep it open," Lee said, "because it is very important to the well-being of this county that Asian Pacifics have access to United Way.

"There has been a huge flow of immigrants--Asians account for 48% of the legal immigration into the U.S.--and it will continue . . .," Lee said.

"The long-term consequences of actively drawing immigrants and refugees into the mainstream, rather than allowing independent and isolated ethnic enclaves to develop, are worth everyone's time and action today," she said.

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