How did a Croatian woman with a Japanese last name end up spending 30 years in support of Latino youth?

Photo by Susan Borden

Friends and supporters of Maryanne Hayashi are scheduled to gather this afternoon to celebrate her 30th anniversary as head of Central City Action Committee, the Angeleno Heights-based social service agency and graffiti clean-up contractor.  Echo Park resident Susan Borden wrote the following story that appeared in the most recent newsletter published by the Echo Park Improvement Assn.

By Susan Borden

She’s been described as the Croatian woman with the Japanese name who lives in Chinatown and works with Latino youth.  Even in multi-cultural Echo Park, few people can claim such an impressive catalog of diversity.  When you hear that the lady’s also reached ‘senior citizen’ status, you’ll know that I can only be referring to Maryanne Hayashi of Central City Action Committee.

The well-respected great-grandmother with the old-fashioned first name has been at the helm of the non-profit Echo Park youth program for the past thirty years.

Central City Action Committee had its beginnings in the 1970s when there was little recognition of Echo Park’s youth gang problems.  Concerned mothers, mostly Latino, incorporated the group under the direction of Mrs. Adele Valle.  Mrs. Valle’s retirement prompted the arrival of Maryanne on April 16, 1981 as Central City’s new director.  She has been there ever since, guiding the organization through ups and downs.

One of the ‘downs’ occurred when an earthquake damaged Central City’s Sunset Boulevard location next to the Glendale Boulevard overpass.  The organization had to relocate downstairs to five old, cramped storefronts on busy Glendale Boulevard.  Eventually the city council offered them the use of a restored fire station at 534 East Edgeware Road.

In all three locations Maryanne has helped hundreds of disadvantaged Echo Park boys and girls reach their potential as productive members of society over the past three decades.  She and her staff have made sure they stayed in school and out of gangs, learned responsibility and how to ace a job interview.  Maryanne admits that there have been setbacks—nowadays there are fewer resources for at-risk children.  Support, like school counsellors and job programs, was readily available in the past.  Los Angeles was full of small industries supplying entry-level jobs, as well as larger plants like Lockheed where a high school graduate could build a career.  Then jobs began to dry up and gangs became more hard-core.

But the former Catholic Youth Organization activist doesn’t give up.  Sitting in her second-floor office in the fire station building that houses the group, Maryanne proudly ticks off the accomplishments of ‘her kids’, as she calls the children Central City serves.  Most of them come from poverty; their parents toil long hours at low wage jobs that leave them without much time or money to lavish on the children for whom they want a better life.  Maryanne’s proud of those whose training at Central City helped them find work at local hospitals, or as bus drivers and teacher’s aides. With guidance from her and the staff many have gone on to college and eventually professional careers.

The kids’ participation in the wider community gives them the important ability to get along successfully with people of other backgrounds.  At first breaking down barriers between groups was a challenge, Maryanne says.  Latino and Philipino kids were suspicious of one another.  Parents feared the gay community.  Whites saw the kids as gang members.  Maryanne got everyone involved with each other through activities such as working side-by-side, volunteering together at festivals, and sharing ethnic foods. Exposure led to friendships and realizations that they had plenty in common.

Children spend several years in the Central City program, starting in fifth or sixth grade.  Over time each one develops a folder containing records of all the projects they’ve completed, sports awards they’ve received, volunteer work and jobs they’ve held.  They learn how to handle the money they raise. When the time comes to look for full-time work, they have a resume, often including commendations from local businesses. These kids know how to show up on time and do what’s asked by an employer.

Maryanne ensures there is plenty of fun too.  The kids not only go to sports events such as the Dodgers and Lakers games, but also to movies, plays, museums and cultural events.  Kids who’ve never been taken to the beach, or even Griffith Park, break out of that isolation.  Maryanne gets her kids away from their own little community to go camping overnight, to visit San Diego—and even San Francisco, when the center can afford it.  She makes sure her kids are comfortable anywhere.

Maryanne herself seems comfortable at home in the handsome Spanish style building Central City shares with vintage LAFD fire engines.   It is here, climbing the steep stairway to the upper floor, that her kids arrive after school, with their backpacks and their homework.  Here, with the circular fire pole railing in the center of the room,  her kids are tutored and encouraged.  Here they have fun, playing games when  their schoolwork’s finished.  Here, their parents know their children are safe because Maryanne’s heart is with them.

The public is invited to a surprise anniversary party for Hayashi that will be held today, April 27, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Central City offices, 534 E. Edgeware Road.


  1. Is there a ‘graph missing, after #3? need details on this woman and her unusual name.

    Hed teases you in, but no payoff….

  2. I am glad to say that I am one of the students she helped out.

    UCSD Class of 2012

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