By Guest Blogger June Aochi Berk
A few years ago I happened to see a documentary by Diane Estelle Vicari, “Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness” which tells the powerful story of Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s consul to Lithuania in 1940. At great risk to his career, his life and the lives of his family, defying Tokyo, Sugihara issued transit visas for refugees escaping Nazi persecution. Ever since, I have been asking myself the same question that Chiune asked himself. “How can I, just one person, make this a better world?” and I also remember the words: “Each person is put on this earth to make this a better place for those who follow….” Min Yasui, in preparing our Tribute to Min Yasui, lived by the words his father taught him, “Each person is born to make a difference in this world….”
I think in volunteering, whether it’s at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), or Koreisha Senior Nutrition Services in Little Tokyo, or at the retirement home formerly owned by Keiro, I see in all the volunteers a caring spirit that is infectious… and it is this spirit, whether we are taught it, or we catch it from someone else, that inspires us to do whatever we choose to do… whether it’s volunteering for the Opera Association, the Symphony, or, the simple art of teaching origami (not so simple!)… or sharing your story with others to help preserve history or the experiences of one’s life… each volunteer is chosen to be a part of a larger picture.
But getting back to volunteering to support residents at the retirement home, I think I like spending my time with the ladies and men at Keiro Retirement Home (soon to be renamed Sakura Gardens) in that they teach me how to live out my own senior years. They go about their daily lives, living each day to the fullest, taking art classes, or dancing classes or singing, exercising, learning how to use the iPad, sewing, knitting, singing/taking karaoke and shigin lessons – all with the thought of enjoying life. To this end, we, as volunteers, help by either sharing ourselves with them, learning alongside them in their efforts… or just enjoying their company and sharing the stories of their interesting lives. We forget that these seniors lived through the most difficult and life-changing years – war, peace, resettlement, coming to America to start a new life – watching their children and grandchildren grow and participate in their active lives in schools, in basketball games, in concerts and performances. Now, as we can sit back and in the sunset of our years, we now have the luxury to just enjoy doing what we like to do…or learn new things!
For some of us, like myself, it’s volunteering that is what we like to do. Sharing my time at the retirement home offers me the opportunity to make new friends, to relive special memories with residents, and to learn new things with them.
The facility, whatever its administrative issues, still has seniors living comfortably and I attended the “Volunteer Appreciation Event” hosted by the facilities’ new operators, and which included not only volunteers, but some of the residents of Keiro, who also volunteer. I saw in them a happy and comfortable spirit of joyful appreciation for the volunteers and the administration.
They applauded when Rick Jensen, president of Northstar Senior Living (operating the retirement home) spoke, first in Japanese, and in English. You could feel the depth of his caring for these seniors, like the same experience he had in Japan, caring for the elderly. This caring for our elders is culturally embedded in us from our parents/grandparents. The residents and volunteers applauded his effort to reach out and speak in Japanese, as he attempted to share his commitment to them, to care for them as best he could. We felt it from him. We all enjoyed the day with other volunteers and residents and staff of all the former Keiro facilities.
As we move forward, it is good to see and feel this kind of wonderful camaraderie. As a volunteer at a former Keiro-owned facility, I learn day by day, what it means to be facing illness and yes, even death… as a part of our life. This is life. This is the inevitable. But for now, we are enjoying each day to the fullest! I thank my friends at the retirement home for letting me be a part of their lives and for inspiring me to give from the heart.
Volunteering is alive and well on Boyle Avenue!!!! (Stay tuned for Part-2)
About the Author:
June Berk (84), has been volunteering for about 5 years at Keiro, assisting the knitting teacher, Emi Scott, at the weekly knitting and crochet/craft classes, and also participating with some of the women residents in a class called “Talk Stories” or “Omoi-da-shi no-Ohanashi” which meets regularly at the retirement home, formerly owned by Keiro. June is also a volunteer assistant in the new iPad class for retirement home residents.
Join June, and the hundreds of other volunteers who continue to share their time and talents to support residents. For more information please visit our website.
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