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
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
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
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.