SEATTLE -- "I'm glad to see you again," says 22-year old Kenyuu Shimizu, extending a handshake that becomes a hug to a smiling mentor. He's at a reception for i-LEAP, the leadership training program that taught him important networking skills just six months ago.
When a tsunami destroyed his hometown of Kesennuma on March 11, 2011, Shimizu left Keio University and began helping the town rebuild its businesses.
It started with helping his father rebuild the family's seafood factory. They had to lay off 200 employees when water five stories high swamped the complex. About 100 people now work there as new construction continues.
Kenyuu is now promoting a new company called "Ganbaare" that manufactures sail-cloth bags and accessories. The fabric and designs are traditional to Kesennuma, a historic fishing town.
"Ganbaare means 'Go for it,'" explains Kenyuu. The new company now employs 100 people. Since April, revenues totalled more than $860,000. Kenyuu has also traveled along the eastern coast, encouraging other youth to apply their skills to rebuild the devastated economy. He credits the training he got at i-LEAP for that.
"I'm so surprised (they listened to me)," laughs Kenyuu. "Face to face, (learning) how to communicate with other people and create relationship. It is so important to solve complex problems."
Britt Yamamoto runs i-LEAP, now in its fourth year. "We really try to make an intentional connection to Seattle," he says. i-LEAP puts young leaders in touch with change-makers face to face.
"It helps build their confidence. They can see themselves as leaders and inspire others to see themselves in that way as well," Yamamoto says.
Despite the uncertain future, Kenyuu is determined. "We will stand up and fight."