In 1988 the Board of Directors of Therapeutic Health Services created an award to honor an individual or organization that has contributed continuously and selflessly to children, youth, adults and families at-risk, especially those affected by chemical dependency and mental illness. The award is named in honor of Alvirita Little, who has contributed over 50 years of professional and volunteer service in support of youth and families in the Greater Puget Sound area. Alvirita Little is perhaps most recognized as the founder of the Girls' Club of Puget Sound (now called Girls Inc. YWCA.)
The granddaughter of a slave, Alvirita grew up among German immigrant farmers and the children and grandchildren of slaves. Alvirita Little's first experience in social work came in 1925, when she organized a Women's League at her church in Spring, Texas to help families in need.
The nearest large city, Houston, held little hope for her future, so at age 17, Alvirita moved to Los Angeles alone where she attended beauty school. She also met a dashing young Army man whom she would later marry. In post-war Japan with her husband, Alvirita volunteered to help the Japanese rebuild schools and churches. She also took the time to complete an education in office administration. Her experiences in travelling around the world with her husband gave Alvirita a first hand look at, and an eternal love for, foreign students.
In 1951 her husband was posted to Fort Lawton, and Alvirita got a job as the secretary to the Chief of Surgery at the Veterans Administration Hospital. Alvirita was the first Black American to hold a job other than as an orderly or janitor at the hospital.
One day in the mid-'60s, Alvirita was approached by a mother whose daughter complained that while there were lots of activities for boys, there was little opportunity for girls. Alvirita, who was an active volunteer in her church, used her resources to search for girls' programs in the community, but came up short.
Undeterred, Alvirita recruited some of her friends and started taking the girl and her friends out for picnics and other activities. The girls also wanted to learn how to cook, sew and swim, so Alvirita through her connections in the Methodist Church, approached a church in Bellevue and presented her idea to the women's group there. To her surprise, the front row at the meeting was occupied by teen girls, all of whom offered to help with camping, swimming and other activities. Their mothers offered to bring their portable sewing machines to the church for sewing lessons. Families with swimming pools offered to host parties at their homes. This was the beginning of the Girls Club of Puget Sound.
Alvirita served as executive director for the Girls Club for 19 years, during which time she oversaw the moving of the club into its own building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. In appreciation for her dedication, the building is now called The Alvirita Little Center for Girls.
Upon retiring, Alvirita continued her service to community by hosting students from far away lands attending the University of Washington through the Foundation for International Understanding through Students. The Foundation presented Alvirita with the Raymond Huff Award in 1964 for her work as a host and for her work in organizing a FIUTS Chapter at Keio University in Tokyo.
She has also served as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts who presented her with the William H. Spurgeon III award in 1980, and the Silver Beaver Award in 1983; the American Red Cross, and the at the VA Hospital.
Alvirita has been recognized by the United Methodist Church with the Bishop's Award in 1979; the E.K. and Lillian F. Bishop Foundation's "Youth Leader of the Year" Award in 1983; "Outstanding Senior Volunteer" from the Senior Services of Seattle/King County; Rabbi Raphael H. Levine Award from the Seattle Rotary in 1989; the 1994 Shigemura Award by FIUTS for hosting over 240 students from 34 different countries since 1951; and was one of 9 citizens recognized by the University of Washington School of Medicine on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in 1994 for 'Living the Dream." Coincidentally, she received the "Service of Youth" Award from the Atlantic Street Center from Ike in 1967. These are just a FEW of the many honors bestowed upon Alvirita Little, still volunteering three days a week, for her lifetime of service to our community.
The Alvirita Little Award has been awarded only four times since its inception in 1988. In 1989, Mother Hale of New York City won the award for her work with drug addicted babies; in 1993 the Alcohol/Drug 24 Hour Helpline was honored for its all-volunteer crisis, information and referral service to the residents of Western Washington; in 1997 Senator George McGovern received the award for his advocacy on behalf of individuals and families affected by chemical dependency. The 1999 recipient of the Alvirita Little Award is Tsuguo "Ike" Ikeda who has contributed over 50 years of professional and volunteer service to under-represented communities in Western Washington State, including 33 years as the Executive Director for the Atlantic Street Center.
1999 Alvirita Little Award Winner
After the war, Ike enrolled at Lewis and Clark College, then came to Seattle to continue his studies at the University of Washington, where he earned a Masters in Social Work. Ike began as a group worker at Neighborhood House at Yesler Terrace and after two years there, he was encouraged to apply for the executive director position at the Atlantic Street Center. In 1953 Ike became the first Asian American to head a mainstream non-profit social service agency in the United States. Ike would go on to lead the organization for 33 years.
Realizing that there was little research and evaluation in social services to at-risk youth, Ike set out to do that work, using the Atlantic Street Center as his research vehicle. In 1953, Ike won funding from the National Institute on Mental Health that resulted in a seven-year demonstration project. He began to standardize the language and modes of observations so that all professionals seeing one youth would be on common ground.
This standardization led naturally to the use of a tool in its infancy - the computer. Ike organized observations so that data could be read and analyzed by computer, and at the University of Washington, Ike began what is believed to be the first use of computers to manage and analyze social service records.
In the 1960s, Ike observed that role modeling was critical in building self-esteem in troubled youth. He hired young African American males, including University of Washington students and Black Panthers. Always a strong advocate for inner city youth, Ike's most touching career moments came when six African American members of his staff threatened to quit if the city would not provide Ike with the funding he needed to continue services to the center's youth group homes.
Ike is a tireless community organizer, continuing today to help new community organizations build their boards, programs and fundraising. He has been a trainer, consultant and facilitator for scores of community based and public organizations and committees. He has been appointed by governors of the state to over a half dozen commissions and panels.
Ike has been recognized by virtually all Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the Puget Sound area for his contributions. In 1995 he was recognized as a Social Work Pioneer by the National Association of Social Workers. The United Way of King County recognized Ike as a "Community Treasure" in 1996. Ike has also received the Bishop's Award from the United Methodist Church, Pacific Northwest Conference. While Ike "retired" 12 years ago, he has continued to volunteer in the community.
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