Celebrating Kristi Yamaguchi

By Amber Zeise, Emerging Leader Intern – Special Events, Civic and Social Innovation

Kristi promoAs this year’s Annual Legacy Gala swiftly approaches, the GLIDE family is taking time to acknowledge and appreciate individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others. This special evening celebrates the community by dancing, eating, drinking, and rejoicing! It is a chance for new people to learn about GLIDE and lifetime members to commemorate the work lead by Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani for over 50 years to cultivate change and happiness all over San Francisco.
At the Legacy Gala, the GLIDE Community Hero Award

Ceremony honors people who make a difference in communities with special talents, innovative services, and passion. This year, the Janice Mirikitani Award will be given to Kristi Yamaguchi for her unparalleled determination has lead her to win an Olympic Gold Medal and Dancing with the Stars as well as create her own nonprofit the Always Dream Foundation.  Janice has shared, “Kristi is a model for all women, particularly women of color for her deep courage and commitment to excellence – her spirit shines beautifully and boldly.” Rev. Williams added, “She is a beloved champion inspiring young Americans to dream big no matter what the odds.”

Kristi Yamaguchi became a world famous figure skater after receiving the 1992 Olympic Gold Metal in Women’s Singles. She continued her legacy of hard work and achievement on the popular show Dancing with the Stars where she won the title of Celebrity Champion. In 1996 Kristi founded the Always Dream Foundation, which in 2012 announced its dedication to improving children’s lives and empowering aspirations through early childhood literacy programs. Always Dream dedicates resources to provide low income schools with the tools, technology, and support develop reading skills in young children that are often left behind by the public school system. Kristi has also published two children’s books Dream Big, Little Pig and It’s a Big World, Little Pig. Additionally, Kristi just launched her own line of women’s sportswear. She has dedicated her work to empowering young children to achieve despite where they begin. Kristi’s heart and dedication echo the efforts of Janice Mirikitani to give voices and opportunity to all children.

As a woman respected internationally for her talent, drive, and generosity, we gave her the opportunity to share some of her story and values with the GLIDE family.
GLIDE’s Co-Founder Janice Mirikitani, a Sansei (third generation Japanese American) once shared, “Our struggle has insured our survival, love has birthed your possibilities. As a Yonsei (fourth generation Japanese American), can you share the lessons you have learned from your personal struggles which created new possibilities for growth and freedom?

Like Janice and her family, both my parents and their families encountered one of the greatest injustices in United States history, being incarcerated in the internment camps during World War II. As I look back and have learned more about this injustice, I do believe some of my inner-strength, determination to never give up and always keeping a positive outlook comes from this terrible experience my family dealt with.  These qualities were essential to their survival during that difficult time for some 120,000 Japanese Americans.

467345_10150701149053618_1250284590_oWhat inspired you to create the Always Dream Foundation? Can you share with us your views and approach to philanthropy and social engagement? What values do you hope will be carried on to the next generation? What have you witnessed through your charitable work that has most inspired you to continue and expand your commitment to childhood literacy and development?

Simply put, it’s about appreciating your life’s blessing and sharing with those less fortunate.  Early in my skating career, I had an opportunity to experience the work of Make a Wish Foundation and it truly opened my eyes!  I wanted to take that feeling and create an organization that allowed me to make a difference in the lives of children from less fortunate backgrounds.

In 2016, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary. A few years ago, we decided to narrow our focus and change our mission statement to assist in our education crisis. It was an eye-opener to learn that in California over 50% of our third graders are not reading proficiently. Statistics show children are three times less likely to graduate high school, which than spirals into all types of other problems.
So we’re focusing on early childhood literacy these days, we formed a partnership with Raising A Reader and providing underserved schools with 21st century technology, tablets, digital books and an award-winning parent engagement program.

Our belief is, as a small foundation, this is the greatest gift we can provide to have an impact in the lives of children.

GP 2 14-510How do you integrate the athletic spirit of competition, performance and discipline into your entrepreneurial pursuits today? What insights would you share with this audience of young professionals?
Be it my journey to capturing the gold medal, competing in Dancing with the Stars, launching my Always Dream Foundation  or managing Tsuya,  my women’s sportswear company, key is to find your passion, surround yourself with positive people, identify inspiring mentors or coaches so you’re constantly improving and go all in by giving it 100% commitment & dedication.

We have a three day countdown until the 6th Annual GLIDE Legacy Gala! Tickets are available at http://glide.org/legacygalatickets.  See you on Saturday!


AMBERAmber Zeise studies Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley. On campus, she is involved in the Body Positive movement and sexual assault awareness and prevention. At GLIDE, Amber is interning for Dori Caminong in Special Events in order to learn innovative ways to educate the masses about social movements in hopes of incorporating this into her future.