Venice Community Housing YouthBuild Helps Maintains VJAMM

Venice YouthBuild volunteers with (far right) YB Associate Director Tijana Quilici and YB Director Kevin Michini. Photos by Phyllis Hayashibara

By Staff Writer

On Friday, August 24, 2018, nine young adults and two directors from Venice YouthBuild, a comprehensive educational, job-training and leadership development program sponsored by Venice Community Housing (VCH), helped polish the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument and sweep up debris from the surrounding sidewalk and street curbs. 

Young adults Tuituu Akau, Durant Dyer, Gage Fontana, Robert Funes, Victoria Guizar, Alanza Jimenez, Tahz Jones, Ramon Ortega and Shairis Plazola arrived on the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln, accompanied by Venice YouthBuild Director Kevin Michini and YouthBuild Associate Director Tijana Quilici. Quilici had prepped the nine volunteers by screening the 2017 documentary by Abby Ginzberg and Ken Schneider, “And Then They Came for Us,” which focuses on the disturbingly current relevance of the 1942 forced removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, and their incarceration in ten American concentration camps under the War Relocation Authority.

Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee provided cleaning supplies.

VJAMM Committee member Phyllis Hayashibara introduced the VJAMM obelisk to the YB participants, reading aloud the three-paragraph text, while the youth themselves volunteered to read aloud the five quotes from former Manzanar internees. Hayashibara explained how the Manzanar cemetery’s white obelisk, inscribed with three kanji characters, I REI TO, meaning “monument to console the dead,” inspired the VJAMM obelisk, to remind the living of our Constitutional rights and to be vigilant about protecting those rights.

I am so moved by this monument,” said YouthBuild volunteer Alanza Jimenez. “As a woman of mixed African American and Native American heritage, I know this injustice should not be forgotten, and I appreciate learning this history. In fact, I’d like to see more monuments dedicated to other groups of people who have suffered, so no one will forget, and so this will never happen again.”

The volunteers enjoyed a lunch of grilled veggie sandwiches and tuna salad sandwiches, generously donated by James’ Beach in Venice. VJAMM Committee member Suzanne Thompson had arranged for the donation, while VJAMM Committee member Kay Brown organized the pickup and delivery to the corner. The volunteers also shared a few sandwiches with a couple of women who walked up and wondered if they could have a sandwich, too.

“We have been learning to give back to the community,” said Robert Funes. “Whatever we do for the community, we get back in return.” Funes credited his wisdom to YB Director Michini, who has pledged Venice YouthBuild to help maintain the VJAMM on a regular basis as a new component of their monthly community service.

James’ Beach in Venice donated grilled veggie sandwiches and tuna salad sandwiches.

Beach Cities Carwash employee Rafael came over to thank the young adults for helping to clean up the street corner. He said the carwash plans to re-landscape the corner of the carwash with a variety of plants.

VCH’s mission statement reads, “Venice Community Housing works to reduce homelessness, maximize affordable housing, empower low-income constituents, provide social services, and advocate for public policy that protects and strengthens the economic, racial and cultural diversity of Venice and other neighborhoods on the Westside of Los Angeles.” 

VHC, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, celebrates thirty years of affordable housing and community development, and serves as the fiscal sponsor for the Venice Arts Council and the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee. For more information about Venice YouthBuild, please visit

For more information about the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument, please visit or [email protected]