History

Asian American Community Services began to form during the Friday evenings Columbus Chinese Christian Fellowship (CCCF) meetings at the University Baptist Church.  Although it was primarily a Bible study group, this small group began to discuss ways to promote awareness of East Asian cultures and languages in the Central Ohio community and Columbus Public Schools.  The group was primarily driven by Dr. Shuh-Chai Lee and two other OSU graduate students.  As a non-citizen employee at the Ohio Department of Transportation, Dr. Lee had experienced life both before and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the 1965 Immigration Law.  Dr. Lee, along with the two other young Chinese graduate students, used their ecumenical, cosmopolitan and humanistic values to address a rising need for cultural sensitivity and integration. 

In March of 1972, W. C. Chow, a Chinese minister from Cincinnati, came to Columbus to facilitate the funeral of a young restaurant worker.  With the help of the CCCF, he offered further assistance to the family to help them deal with the unexpected tragedy.  The family was grateful for the assistance of the Pastor and joined the CCCF Bible studies.  Reverend Chow expanded the CCCF to include Sunday worship services at the Wesley Foundation near the OSU campus.  The group was still primarily a Bible study group and was rapidly growing.  However, ideas to help the Asian community within the group began to surface.    

Dr. Lee’s first case came in August of 1972 by the name of Mr. Wong—the 90-year-old father of a close friend.  As a WWI veteran who came to the U.S. in 1916, Mr. Wong had been receiving a pension for 25 years.  However, he had no idea he was also eligible for veterans and welfare benefits nor how to apply for those benefits.  After he was evicted from his apartment for nonpayment of rent, he moved to his son’s garage that had been converted to a living quarter and died a few years later.  Moved by this injustice, Dr. Lee helped Mr. Wong’s son build and operate a small restaurant in a predominately African American neighborhood. The restaurant supported his five immigrant families for the next three generations.

After learning about Dr. Lee’s assistance to Mr. Wong and his family, Chinese students, recent immigrants, aging immigrants and their children began to come to the CCCF not only for Bible studies but to seek social services and assistance. 

Dr. Lee sought especially to provide services to the elderly Asian community through a senior lunch program called NICE (now called Lifecare Alliance).  In an effort to teach cultural awareness and native language to the younger generation, Dr. Lee and three volunteers (one of whom was his wife, Catherine S.) organized a Chinese Language class for Elementary School children.  Both he and his wife were constantly invited to speak to students at the Columbus Public Schools on various topics of East Asian languages, history, geography, and culture.  Dr. Lee also met with the Columbus Adult Readers Association to show cultural and educational films and then discuss the various topics.      

In 1976, almost four years later, Dr. Lee founded Asian American Community Services as a structure to help serve not only Chinese but all Asian populations in Central Ohio.  The founding members of the Board of Trustees included Reverend and Dr. Pogue as the President, Mrs. Kawakami as Treasurer, and Dr. Lee as Executive Secretary and Executive Vice-President.  That same year, 1976, the U.S. President and Congress proclaimed the second week in May as an Asian celebration week.  Two years later, AACS appealed to other Asian-American groups in Ohio to organize a celebration of Asian Week at the YMCA.  

Despite many set-backs (i.e. a significant lack of grant funding) in the years following its establishment, Asian American Community Services has managed to conduct hundreds of cases without any publicity over the past 32 years of operation.  What began as a small, volunteer and faith-based group has become a thriving nonprofit organization, which is the only organization that serves all ages and races of the Asian community in Central Ohio.