I started working here 1993 – I believe I was a resident in AADAP and I got to the working phase. One of the Environmental Services managers was in the program with me and he says, “Hey, KYCC is hiring”. My counselor in AADAP told me to try working in a different field, because I have always worked in construction, truck driving, and stuff like that.
“What positions do they have open?”
“Ah, you’re just going to walk around, talk about toilets, and try to get customers to conserve water.”
“Conserve water, how are you going to do that?”
“By giving away toilets and teaching people about the toilet program. We help to conserve water.”
So I said, “I’ll check it out. Why not?”
So I ended up at KYCC working for the water conservation program and for the graffiti removal also.
I got so many memories. I was here when Bonghwan Kim was the director.
We were located right on the corner of Western and Hollywood in a trailer. It was like a park out there with a big old mural on the wall right next to us. When the earthquake hit in 1994, some of the brick buildings on Hollywood Blvd collapsed. I was on my way to work that morning when the earthquake hit. When I got there, the trailers were just tossed up and everything was a mess. So that day, we just cleaned up, and we started helping out. We started taking water to KYCC. People were donating clothes – new stuff. We used our trucks and took a lot of water and clothing to help out.
Eventually Metro bought that property, so we were asked to move. We moved to 6th and Oxford, and I became a supervisor there. I got involved with the water conservation program. I started learning more about toilets – the names of the toilets, the brand, how they work, how to install them, how to fix them. And I did that for 10 years. Then we moved from Oxford to Serrano. I started doing graffiti removal, water conservation, and recycling when I first started. They built a golf range, so we got kicked out of there as well. From there, we had nowhere to go. We wanted to be in Koreatown, but it was expensive to be in Koreatown and we ended up finding the Pico site. It was an old building – our office was tore up, no bathrooms. We actually had to pay a contractor to make the offices. I did the plumbing for the bathrooms.
Then, we started growing. When I first started, we only had two trucks. Every time we got the toilet returned, we got money. When we started installing the toilet, we got four 15-passenger vans. What we did was we took the seats out.
We’d get first place trophies for personality, for team work, and for installing. We used to get these plaques. We were like the number-one CBO (community-based organization). We were highly recommended as far as doing our job and giving away the toilets. Even though we were giving people free toilets, we really had to use a pitch and teach people what the toilet represented and how much money it was going to save you. So imagine how much water is saved if all the toilets in an apartment building is switched from a five gallon toilet to a three gallon. We also started giving away aerators to the kitchen faucets and shower heads. Shower heads uses 5-7 gallons per minute, and the ones we were giving away were using 2.5 gallons per minute. We were saving so much water that within 10 years, we hit the 1 million mark in 2001 in the number of toilets that we gave away.
I was part of the coalition with DWP and five other community-based organizations. DWP was looking for another CBO, so I mentioned AADAP and started them off, showing then what to do, what they needed to get a warehouse, forklift, pallet jack, all the space. I coached them through it, and AADAP wanted to hire me but I was working with KYCC. I loved KYCC, and I loved AADAP too because that’s where I started my life my new life from my alcohol abuse. So I was in a limbo like, “What should I do?” I ended up staying at KYCC. For water conservation program, we used to do radio broadcast, paper ads, and we used to make our own flyers. We did a lot, and it was a really good experience. Water conservation created a lot of jobs, and we did so well that Orange County starting water conservation in 2001.
So I got a call from the contractor that got the contract in Orange County. “Would you be interested to get a job with us? Could you come help us out here?” I ended up going to Orange County for water conservation and basically I took everything that I’ve learned from KYCC and brought it over there. A lot of people were not happy when I left because they liked me here. I didn’t really want to leave, but they wanted me to help out over there. They did offer me some more money, I was happy working here, but I ended up going to help out over there. Meanwhile, I was still keeping in touch with KYCC and with the manager, Dory. When I found out that he was sick, I started calling and asked how he was doing. I prayed for the guy because he was a pretty good guy. I was concerned and asked, “Is everything okay?” I kind of faded away for KYCC because I was working over at Orange County. When the program finished, Dory offered me a job back at KYCC. He asked, “Would you like to come back and work for us? We got an opening and we know you have experience. Would you like to comeback as a supervisor to oversee the water conservation?”
When I got the call back from Dory about coming back, I knew I needed a vacation. So with the extra money that I made, I took a month vacation to visit my wife’s family in Texas and came back to KYCC in 2003 or 2004. They welcomed me back, and I was Jerry’s supervisor then. I oversaw the multifamily installation. We were installing like between 60 to 80 toilets today with four vans going out installing. We got the contract at La Brea Park, and they had 7,000 toilets. When I came back, I started getting bigger contracts – nothing but apartments and we were installing them like crazy. I started dreaming of toilets. I’m serious, I had a dream about toilets going around in circles, and they were flying! That’s when I knew that I had to stop. After that, a year later, they stopped water conservation and started tree planting program.
They cut out water conservation, sold all the vans, and bought a truck for tree planting. So I started planting trees with Jose. Jose has been around since 1990. I hired him, I was actually his boss. They sent me to UCLA and I took a business administration class. They told me if I didn’t pass, I would have to pay for the class, so I got an A in the class and got promoted to manager.
I enjoyed it, I really did, I had a good time. Then I came back and I started learning about trees and Jerry became my supervisor. So I started learning about trees and started planting trees. Of all the trees that we plant, I know the common name, some scientific name. I know about maybe 60~70 trees in their common names. I knew about lemon tree, apple tree, fruit tree, but the shade trees I really didn’t know too much. I’ve learned such a great deal. I’ve used all of my working experience in irrigation sprinkler system, landscape experience, and I’ve used all that experience that I’ve learned in my life working with ES. Even my truck driving experience. I’ve worked in an ice cream plant before for 2 years old. I was the warehouse person doing stock and inventory control. But I also got to learn how to make ice cream, fruit bars with real fruit. It was pretty neat, I learned how to make pineapple with water, strawberry with milk. It was called frozen fruit ice cream. I’ve worked out different companies, and everything that I’ve learned in my life, I did it here.
When I was seventeen, I had a girlfriend. I would go to church because that’s the way I was raised. My mom would take us to church every Sunday, and watch my dad play baseball. So I grew up at the parks in the weekends. When I was 17, I had my first car working in Orange County doing irrigation and sprinkler systems. I didn’t finish high school, I went to night school for eight years and received my GED. I would go to church, and after church, I would play ball on a team. When I was around 18, I got a draft letter to come to Miami, Florida to try out for leagues, but it was too expensive for me to go. Also, my girlfriend at the time told me if I went, I would never see her again. You got to have a good eye, and keep your eye on the ball. That’s the secret.
I’ve played baseball with KYCC. We used to have a softball league before. We used to get together and bowl. It’s been a big experience. I’ve been to around 20~21 Christmas parties, and attended to all the fundraisers. I was even Santa Claus for the KYCC Holiday Carnival. It’s been a long journey. It’s not over yet, and it’s been fun. We have a lot of interesting people here at KYCC. It’s a cool place to work.
I work at AADAP on the weekends. I oversee people that have alcohol and drug problems and want to change their lives around. They face substance abuse. When people get into confrontations, sometimes I run groups. I take them to the beach, to the park. I used to do anger management class. Now what I do is I take them out on the weekends and teach them how to cut grass, trim hedges, teach them how to do landscape maintenance and other skills for them to learn. When they have a broken pipe at AADAP, I do their plumbing. Like I said, the skills that I’ve learned, I use them at AADAP also. I also supervise the maintenance and teach them, I try not to do the work. I do one-on-one and give them some feedback and insight. I changed my life in AADAP and KYCC. It’s important for nonprofits because it does give back to the community. It’s not just painting graffiti, but gang prevention. Get that graffiti off the wall so you don’t have the gangs going at it. For a lot of the guys that come to KYCC for community service, I use my experience from AADAP and here. A lot of guys receive DUIs, and I end up counseling people here at work in KYCC. It’s combined – the work I do in the weekends over there, I bring it back over here to the people because a lot come in for domestic violence, DUIs.
We communicate while at work, and they tell me what they’re here for. I had one today that was here for DUI, and we ended up talking about it. I was like, “You know what, and I am going on 12 years sobriety”. I would have had 25, but I drank a little bit. I’m not perfect, but I knew that I didn’t want to do it anymore. My daughter, Denise who worked for us as a Summer youth, she helped change my life to just stop completely. She was seven years old. I spent a lot of money on alcohol, and I realized that I could have been spending that money on buying my kids clothes and doing things together. She looked at me one day and said, “Dad, I don’t like the way you are when you drink”. That really touched me and I was like, “Wow. You know what, I promise you I’ll never drink again”. From that day on, I haven’t drank. I remember when I first left AADAP, I kept the sobriety and I didn’t drink. And then I got married. I got out of the program in 1994, I was good until 1997, after I got married and my wife got pregnant. Then I started drinking. I was never married before, I never had kids, and suddenly I got a lot of responsibilities. So I started drinking occasionally in the weekends. But I noticed that I liked the sobrierty part than the drinking part because my relationship with my kids and my family was better.
Life was hard for me in supporting six of us all together. I needed to make extra money, so I started installing toilets on the side during the water conservation program. I got permission from Johng Ho to go ahead and install toilets after hours. I knew Johng Ho for a long time. I have a pretty good relationship with Johng Ho, he is a very good friend. My kids used to call him uncle, and his kids used to call me Uncle Tommy. It got to the point when my son was five, I became his baseball coach, and Denise’s baseball and basketball coach. So by having kids kind of changed my life around to coaching. So in my experience with baseball, I started coaching, and because of that, I also decided to cut down on drinking. But once Denise hit seven, I completely stopped. My lifestyle was different. I started being a father and more of a provider and my life changed quite a bit. Come to think of it, that was one of the reasons why I left KYCC because I had a bigger family and had to make more money. But now, when I think back, I wish I would have never left. Because it’s not all about the money. But, I’m back. I’ve been back. I’m going on 12 years on October 17th.
I’m a baseball player, I love bowling. I love playing sports. I love teaching kids. I love to cook and cook with my kids. I like cooking carne asada, guacamole, beans and rice, and enchiladas. I cook for my kids now. I’ve been divorced for three years, but we have a good relationship. When I was in AADAP, I learned how to cook Chinese food, and I know how to cook galbi. Since I’ve been working at KYCC, I’ve been to over 40 restaurants all over Koreatown. Koreatown has changed. It’s overpopulated. I moved out of Koreatown to get a house in La Puente. I moved there in November and now I’ve got a little front yard. Well, I was in the outskirts of Koreatown, but where I lived I was having a lot of problems with the owner. He didn’t want my kids to play in the yard. He didn’t want my kid’s friends to come in the yard. I used to play catch with my son in the driveway because he’s a pitcher. People said we were making too much noise, so the owner did not let us play on the front yard. We used to have a picnic table out in the front and have barbeque, but he didn’t want us to do that also. At that particular time, working with AADAP and KYCC, I was able to pay off my bills. Joe made me go over to Audrey and see her about budgeting my money and how to save. It worked out fine. I was able to save and KYCC helped me a lot in coming up with the down payment. They gave me a little loan and I was able to get enough money to put a down payment and get a little house. It worked out pretty good. It was a new phase, and I needed to move on. By getting pressured by the owner, “Hey, you should buy a house. You know, you’ve got family, you’ve got, kids, you got grandchildren”. He was a good owner, but the tenants were complaining about me. We have two dogs. He was okay with the small dog, but he wasn’t okay with the Pitbull. Denise had the Pitbull and my son had the little dog.
So, I believe in God, I really do, and I believe He works in mysterious ways. I believe that through this whole period of changing my life from going through my alcohol problem and everything I was doing, then graduating from the AADAP program, and getting a job at KYCC – everything just changed my life. I went along with everything in life and noticed that when I do the right thing in life, good things happen. So I look back and say, “Man, I work for KYCC, which is a really good company. I work for the two best non-profits I believe in California. I’m really lucky to work for AADAP, and I’m really lucky to work here. I know Sam from AADAP, Byron from AADAP, and I’ve known G for 20 years from AADAP. I’m trying to study right now to get certified as a drug counselor. But it’s so stressful. I’ve always wanted to be a counselor, but the drugs that people are doing now is crazy. I don’t mind all the alcohol and the weed, but what crystal meth is doing to people is sad, and it’s really stressful. I don’t think I can work counseling full time because of the stress. I’ve been working at AADAP going on eight years – I’ve been working seven days a week for eight years. Because of that, I’m able to afford to pay the house, and help other people like how I received help. I don’t know if it’s catching up to me, but I’m having doubts about becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. I like working with people, but when it becomes like a business, I don’t agree with that. I like working the outdoors and doing what I do at KYCC.
I promised myself that when I graduated from AADAP years ago, I wanted to become a counselor. Now that I’m there and there’s an opportunity to be a counselor, it’s like climbing a mountain and I’m almost there to the top. But I don’t want to get to the mountain top. I don’t know why, but maybe because it’s been such a big challenge for me. It’s a goal that I’ve made. I set a lot of long term goals after leaving AADAP, and I’ve accomplished all of them except becoming a counselor. So I took the test, and I failed about two months ago. Now I have to pay again to take it again. But I haven’t been studying. I don’t know what’s holding me back – I really don’t. I got the book, I know a lot about counseling, I know about the drugs and the medications people are using, I know how to talk to people, I know how to relate to people. I just have to do it and motivate my self.
You get burnt out, I don’t know if it’s just working too much. You know, getting off work, having to drive through traffic an hour and a half to two hours, going home to cook dinner, take a shower, watch some television, go to sleep, and get up again at 5 o’clock in the morning to make it back to work by 6:30. It’s my fault, I moved. I’m the one that wanted the house. But it’s okay, it’s not to the point where I’m going crazy or anything like that. I’m stable, I’m healthy. My knees are getting a little bit rusty, but I watch what I eat. It’s okay, I’m able to go through everything. Denise tells me, “Dad, you need to relax”. I want to fix the yard up to the house, I want to paint the house, but she reminds me to just relax and enjoy the house. I’ve done the sprinklers, planted a couple of plants, the grass is growing, and I want to work on the backyard next. But she goes, “Dad, everything takes money so you have to just take it easy”. My daughter gets on me, she’s like my support. Not only her, but my supervisor at work in AADAP. Ryan too, and Joe. A lot of staff at KYCC knows my situation and knows what I’ve been through and they’ve been a big support for me. My boss at AADAP supports me a lot, but I’m ready for a vacation. I want to visit my mom at Bishop up north. I love fishing so I just want to go spend some time and let her cook for me for the whole week like she always does. She feeds me until I can’t eat anymore. I think I need a vacation – I think we all do, me and the kids. We’ve been through so much. I just kind of count my blessings and pray every night that I can deal with all these things that are going on. Personal issues. It’s been tough, but my job is what keeps me going – KYCC and AADAP and my kids is what keeps me going and stay focused. That’s what keeping me from actually studying and really focus on reading the book. We’ll see.
In 10 years from now, I imagine myself to be fishing, relaxing. I want to continue to work. If KYCC could provide me with some position somewhere doing something, I could stick around. I don’t want to leave because of the age – I still got some years on me. I’m strong. I’m strong enough to keep up with these youngsters. Give me a crew of 100 people, I can put them to work. I don’t have to kill myself working. Even when I go out and training these guys in planting trees, I get involved and get dirty. That’s what’s keeping me in shape, keeps me playing ball. I gotta stay healthy. That’s why for my new years resolution at All-Staff, I said I wanted to stay healthy. If I don’t take care of myself, aint nobody going to take care of me. I got the job and the support, but I need to take care of me. Denise might bug me about it, my mom asks for me as well. Thinking about my parents, thinking about my personal life, and thinking about the test, how can I take the test. I can’t concentrate. So I need to go and talk to my supervisor back at AADAP.
I feel great. I feel happy. I know I talked a lot. The most important thing as far as starting in any company is make sure that you’re there for the right reasons. I have to look at where I came from. Society, to me, helped me. The government, starting the drug and alcohol program. If it wasn’t for these drug and alcohol programs, even prevention at KYCC, if it wasn’t for programs like that, I wouldn’t exist right now. They’re the ones who helped me to learn about who Tommy really is and what life has to offer. Even AADAP and going to a nonprofit with the record that I had. I didn’t have a criminal record, but I had a lot of DUIs, I was a party animal. But partying led to drinking and I would do things that I shouldn’t do. Working at KYCC allowed me to give back to society and work for the community because community to me is what helped me change my life. So giving back to my community – to me I look at the community as all of California, the whole world, not just Los Angeles – because what we do here I know it’s happening elsewhere. I donate money to United Way, to the Asian Fund, because I know those programs are what keeps our programs alive too. I give back in certain ways. Not only by picking up trash, but I’m giving back because that’s why Tommy’s been who he is able to be.
I always been a baseball player. My dad was a professional baseball player in Mexico. We have it in our blood. Tommy Jr. is playing in high school, and I’m proud of him and I’m proud to be his father. And the father of Denise. It’s been a journey, and it’s been good. Compared to who Tommy was because of his addiction and to who he is now, I feel pretty proud of myself. I don’t pat myself on the back too much, but sometimes I buy me some new tennis shoes. Haha. I think God has been good to me. And I’ve been trying to be good to myself. Be happy where you are working at. You have to have that respect for each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, whatever culture you are. To me God put us all here for a reason. It was more interesting when I was able to eat Korean food, Chinese food, when I was able to live with different cultures in AADAP. That was one of the best times of my life because I was able to live in one complex and learn about different ethnic people. I noticed that we’re not all different, we just speak different and eat different food, and it’s good! Life is good. I really enjoy it. I enjoy working here, I enjoy working with the people that are here. Sometimes I get a little bit too loud, but I love working with people at both jobs. I’ll be Disneyland or the beach, and I would see people that I know. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. When you plant a tree for somebody, they’re happy. When we maintain the Wilshire Blvd, you should see the compliments we get from some people. Not just for me, but just in environmental itself, we get a lot of good compliments.
That’s my autobiography.