Feature

The Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation has given APF a $75,000 grant that will help psychologists better understand mental health issues in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, design more effective treatment and service programs and develop leadership skills for policy-making positions.

The Okura foundation's grant is funded by the estate of the late K. Patrick and Lily Okura, lifelong advocates for civil rights and improved mental health services. The foundation was founded in 1988 with the $20,000 they each received from the U.S. government as reparations for their internment during World War II.

“They touched multiple individual lives, and through the foundation, I think they've made a systemic, ongoing impact,” says Karen Suyemoto, PhD, past president of the Asian American Psychological Association.

Patrick died in January 2005; Lily, five months later.

The new $75,000 grant will be dispensed in three awards of $20,000 over three years; $15,000 of the $75,000 grant goes to administrative costs. The awards will rotate each year among proposals that emphasize research, training and service, says Ford Kuramoto, vice president of the Okura Foundation. Kuramoto says he hopes the grants spark creative ideas that will eventually improve care to people in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, who make up about 5 percent of the U.S. population.

In particular, he hopes the grants will lead to more culturally competent service providers. “The number of really culturally competent, language-accessible mental health services for our populations in the United States are very, very few,” Kuramoto says.

APF, AAPA and the Okura Foundation developed the grant program over the past two years. AAPA members who are no more than 10 years past postdoctoral study are eligible to apply. The deadline for the first award was Nov. 1, APF will announce the winner early next year.

A founding member of AAPA, Patrick worked and advocated for improved research, training and services for the mental health needs of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. Okura's lifelong advocacy stemmed, in part, from his personal experiences.

Born in California, he earned a master's in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Patrick and Lily were among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans held by the U.S. government. They spent nine months living at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in Arcadia, Calif., sleeping on straw mattresses in a converted stable. That changed when Father Edward Flanagan of the Boy's Town orphanage in Omaha requested help from someone with Okura's psychology background, and federal authorities allowed the Okuras to move to Nebraska. There, Patrick served as the staff psychologist.

Eventually, he became state planner for Nebraska's mental health programs before coming to Washington, D.C., in 1970 to work for the National Institute of Mental Health as executive assistant to then-director Bertram Brown, MD. When Patrick retired in 1985, he was director of the NIMH's International Mental Health Program.

APF President Dorothy W. Cantor, PsyD, says the foundation was “delighted and honored” to receive the gift from the Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation.

“We believe that the grants APF will provide in research, training, service and practice will have both an immediate and long-term impact that will enhance the AAPI community for many years to come,” Cantor says.