Sayonara! After six years at the JCCCW, Theo Bickel begins new job at Chinatown non-profit

Former JCCCW Volunteer & Intern Coordinator Theo Bickel. Photo: Jenna Phillips

Former JCCCW Volunteer & Intern Coordinator Theo Bickel. Photo: Jenna Phillips

BY JENNA PHILLIPS / JCCCW GANBARU INTERN

Theo helps a customer at Hosekibako in 2018. Photo: Tyler Sipe

Theo helps a customer at Hosekibako in 2018. Photo: Tyler Sipe

All good things must come to an end. Theo Bickel, who has worked tirelessly at the JCCCW for six years, has accepted a new position with an International District non-profit (more on his new gig in the Q & A below).

Known for his magnetic smile and genki personality, Theo got his start at the J as an intern in the summer of 2013. For the past four years, he’s worked as a volunteer and intern coordinator, where he’s mentored 78 interns! But Theo was also a fixture at Hosekibako and the Japanese Language School.

Learn more about Theo’s experiences at the J, and about his new job!

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what your experience has been like? You started out as an intern?

A: Yes! I was a summer intern back in 2013, and I was assisting with the programming, and with a lot of the events during the busy summer season, and that experience was a wonderful one. It is how I got so close to the organization and it sort of made me want to reach back out once I returned to Seattle after I finished college.

Experience wise, I kind of just threw myself into the whole organization, into all the different things that are going on here. The relationship building experiences were very positive for me, making sure people knew who we were, that people were having a positive experience here. So, in thinking about the mission I tried to embody it with every relationship I had here, every person who came to the J, always trying to think about how could they get more engaged, or how could they become involved with us.

Q: What has been your most rewarding experience at the J?

A: That’s a tough question! I coordinate interns and I think that it’s always really impactful for me to see people grow during their time here with us, but also seeing them years later, months later. It’s so rewarding to see where the internship kind of fit along their career, identity, and their personal growth. I’m close with some of them and just to know that they had a really powerful experience here has been really wonderful.

Theo with Ganbaru Interns in 2015. Photo: Tyler Sipe

Theo with Ganbaru Interns in 2015. Photo: Tyler Sipe

Q: And how many interns did you oversee during your time here?

A: I think I’ve overseen about 78. And you know, it’s been wonderful and many of them do come back and visit and we’ve had some some students come and visit all the way from Japan when they return to Seattle. They just walk right in the door and say “hello.” That’s exactly what we want, right? We want people to know that this is an open-door community center.

Q: What does the J mean to you?

A: I think what the J means to me personally, as someone who has seen it from sort of the volunteer and intern side, as well as seeing it from the staff side, it’s just has been an incredibly centering experience. It’s just wonderful knowing that there are community organizations here that really have such a wide impact and have such a wide avenue for people to get involved. This is the first time in my life that I have been in a multigenerational space. And being in a space that is mostly people of color and Nikkei has just been incredibly, incredibly impactful. I feel like it has really been a huge experience for my identity development as well. Being half Japanese and half white and also growing up in a very white space in Ridgefield, Washington, I think that although it was a positive childhood, it definitely didn’t allow for an opportunity for me to explore my identity. 

Q: What’s it like working with the small JCCCW team?

A: Well, it’s very team based. I think that everybody here is focused on a mission, right? They’re here and they’re involved because they want to make a difference and they see that a place like this has an impact and people have positive experiences here. And so I think that kind of team, collaborative, checking in with one another, wanting to kind of center each other’s experiences, it’s always been very powerful. Even for first time volunteers, it seems like there’s a very intentional attitude here of welcomeness. I think that a lot of people have been really shocked by how nice people are, but again that’s part of the environment. We are trying to be an open arms, open door facility. 

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I will be moving on over to the International Community Health Service, which is a nonprofit based in the Chinatown International District. It’s a clinic focused on providing care and health services to refugee immigrant communities. So I’m happy I’ll be working with the foundation, helping with some of the fundraising events, helping plan some of the events there, as well as with digital marketing. So my official title, again it’s kind of a mouthful, but it’s Digital Communications Specialist, or Digital Communications and Events Specialist.

Q: Is there anything you want to say to the people working here?

A: It’s been like family. It’s been a really powerful, supportive environment. Being young, mid to late twenties now, I really can’t think of a better place to have grown, so it was good.