KOREATOWN : Helping Immigrants Realize Their Dreams

When Pat Tharachai came to the United States from Thailand 25 years ago, he carried with him the American Dream many Asian immigrants have of starting a business. But in a new country with new ways, he lacked the American marketing know-how to turn that dream into a reality--until he heard from friends about PACE.

The acronym stands for the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment, a nonprofit organization based in Koreatown that for two decades has been teaching Asian immigrants the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs or to land jobs.

As the consortium prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary this week, graduates such as Tharachai stand as testimony to the organization's role in developing the Asian American business community.

"I tried other businesses, including a restaurant, but I was not successful," said Tharachai, who for the past two years has operated the Take 5 coffeehouse in Hollywood. He recently graduated from a six-week class on running a small business sponsored by the consortium.

Although business was slow when Tharachai signed up for the course, it has picked up since he began advertising cappuccino specials, Thai snacks and other unique items on a sandwich board outside his door.

"I learned all about promotion, and how to catch the attention of passersby just by doing simple, inexpensive things," Tharachai said. "My business has increased by about 30% in the past month."

The Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment was founded in 1974 to provide English classes and simple job-skills training for recent Asian immigrants. It has been funded through an initial grant from the city obtained by several Asian and Pacific Islander community groups.

But the consortium didn't really begin to take off until the following year, when the fall of Saigon in Vietnam resulted in a wave of Southeast Asian refugees streaming into Los Angeles, speaking little or no English and with few marketable job skills, said Kerry Doi, executive director of the group.

"The State Department asked us to do refugee resettlement through job training and placement," said Doi, a native of the Hawaiian island of Molokai. "So we came up with our handyman program so we could teach them some construction skills."

That program--a fixture since PACE began--is an arrangement in which trainees work with skilled supervisors to provide no-cost repairs for elderly and disabled homeowners. The trainees learn a marketable skill, and the homeowners get their repairs done. The program has grown to service 500 to 600 homes annually, Doi said.

Over the years, with mostly public funding, the consortium has developed other ways to help Asians and people of all ethnic backgrounds. Clerical training and English classes are offered as well as child care and early education for the children of working poor families.

A community garden program with 30 sites citywide is in place, along with low-income housing developments in Temple-Beaudry and South-Central Los Angeles.

The Business Development Center, which administers the entrepreneurial classes, began shortly after the 1992 riots to help people who had lost their businesses. It has evolved to include those who, like Tharachai, need a little help with their existing business or those who want to start one from scratch.

"We see self-employment as a form of job creation," Doi said. "There is an old adage that says, 'Rather than give someone a piece of fish, teach them how to fish.' Empowerment is what this organization is all about."

A 20th anniversary fund-raising dinner at $100 a plate will be held Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m. at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 S. Figueroa St. Information: (213) 389-2373.

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