Los Angeles School Age Regional Manager Sam Suzuki
Meet the People Behind the Titles
In 1977, two years before the Regional Center separated from Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and was renamed to honor Assemblymember Frank D. Lanterman, Sam Suzuki began his career in developmental disabilities as a service coordinator. Four years later, he was promoted to regional manager.
Suzuki came to the regional center by a circuitous route. He received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Maryknoll Seminary while studying for the priesthood. He left the seminary to join the Peace Corps. “I knew that I wanted to devote my life to a service career. I chose to work in rural Honduras for three years because I wanted to learn Spanish, knowing I would eventually be doing some type of social work in Los Angeles.” Following his stint in the Peace Corp he decided to go to Japan to explore his cultural roots and meet his extended family. Upon his return to the United States, he pursued a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California.
Suzuki, who is regional manager of the Los Angeles School Age unit, shares, “All of my experiences have really helped me to appreciate and feel at home working with the multiple ethnic communities that make up Lanterman’s catchment area.” Suzuki manages 14 staff, 13 of whom are bilingual in Spanish, Korean or Armenian.
Suzuki has long championed inclusion and laments that with increased administrative duties, he has less time to attend IEP meetings with families and promote inclusion, although he still presents at quarterly inclusion seminars. He says, “Given that the prevalence of autism is greater today, and the topic of autism is showing up regularly in the media, the public is much more aware and receptive to having children with disabilities included in regular classes and social recreational programs.”
He is also actively involved with the school districts and regularly participates in meetings between Lanterman and the Los Angeles Unified School District. And he shares that the administrative changes that LAUSD has made, especially making the vice-principal of each school site accountable for educating children with special needs, has made a big difference in the pace of inclusion of children with disabilities compared with many other districts.
Suzuki feels that one of his strengths is teaching and enjoys being a mentor for the Los Angeles School Age team members and sharing his 33 years of regional center experience and wisdom. He values hard work and lives by the motto, “Practice what I preach,” saying that “I ask my team to work hard, but I also try to be an example for them, I enjoy working hard and doing the best that I can.”
He pioneered the annual social recreational fair in the mid-90s, which has been an annual community resource fair hosted by the Foothill School Age unit. He adds, “We’re only going to be able to meet the challenge of providing better services with fewer resources by taking full advantage of all available community resources and finding innovative solutions.”
Suzuki, who was born at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, grew up just a few miles from Lanterman. He moved to Montebello with his wife 33 years ago, the same year his son was born. He and his wife, a nurse at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, also have a daughter.