Sunday, July 25, 2010



My three cousins have been role models for me for many years. The sisters, May Okazaki, Ethel and Grace Kitagawa have been volunteering through their church, the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin on Pali Highway. The church has many outreach programs for the community, including services provided to the aged. These services include but are not limited to home care, visitation, providing transportation for doctor's appointments, and caregivers' respite relief.

If one isn't confident enough to venture on his/her own, join in with a church that has community outreach that focuses on providing services rather than religious recruitment. Hospices are always looking for volunteers in all phases of providing support for those facing death. And, provide counseling for the adjustment period after the passing of a loved one. I know of many cases where a person goes into a deep depression following the death of a parent. And these people are so dysfunctional that they aren't able to leave the house unless they're heavily medicated.

My cousins even participate in a group that brings the Buddhists' celebration of the Obon season to nursing and care homes. Obon is where they welcome loved ones back to this world during August. After the season, they send send them back to their world on lanterns set in rivers, lakes and the ocean. The patients in care homes can't get out to the Obon festivities so they bring the festivities to them. What a kind and wonderful gesture.

May Okazaki, left and sister Ethel Kitagawa getting ready for their dance
They were having so much fun that I was getting ready to jump in and join them. But a well-placed stink-eye from my cousins kept me from making the usual fool of myself.

If you don't believe you have any talent where you can entertain, let me be an example of someone who can't play the piano or sing, but have not let that technical detail stop me. And I do it quite enthusiastically, by the way. I'm so bad, that I have to make up for my lack of musical abilities by performing as an entertainer and banter with the audience. And we all laugh together.

A few patients asked for a recording of my songs so I made a CD of 12 ballads and gave them out. Whether they wanted it or not. I'm fair that way. So they get to enjoy the music even when I'm not there.

Lately, I've been experimenting with slide shows using some of the music I recorded. I'm not as technically talented as others are, but I do my best, with the help of Adobe Photoshop and Elements. One of the husbands at the care home is there every day, caring for his wife. And he's always holding her hand and hugging her even though she isn't able to react because of the multiple strokes she has suffered. The love he has for her is obvious. So, I'm trying to get him to give me pictures of the both of them throughout the years and I'll make a DVD slide show using my recording of Godfather (Speak Softly) or Love Story as the musical backdrop.

Another pianist made a video DVD of ethnic (Japanese and Filipino) songs and put the words on the screen for the patients to read and sing along. The patients love it and can play the karaoke DVD every day and it's almost as if he was there entertaining them. So if you have abilities besides entertaining, like barber skills, you can still volunteer. And our kupunas will be deeply grateful for a haircut. They still want to look good.

Lanakila is always looking for volunteers, particularly their "Meals on Wheels" program where they deliver meals to the elderly who cannot get out. Hospice Hawaii is beginning a new round of training for volunteers in August. Here is a link you may want to browse through to see what volunteering opportunities are available.

I guarantee that it'll change you as a person. And we'll be making our community better, one volunteer at a time. I'll even bet that you may be inspiring someone else to volunteer, just as my cousins have been inspirational to me.

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