By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
Earlier this month, a Sendai-based delegation of volunteer group arrived in their sister city of Riverside to visit nursing care facilities to learn more about how to coordinate volunteers.
Eighteen-selected-delegates from the Sendai Keiro Hoshikai, a non-profit organization that specializes in educating volunteers and care facility employees to increase voluntarism at nursing homes, received a warm welcome from Mayor Ron Loveridge, Karin Roberts, the president of the International Relations Council of Riverside, and members of the IRC’s Sendai Committee.
“We are very proud of our friendship with Sendai. For over 50 years, there has been an incredible flow of goodwill between our communities,” said Loveridge at a reception held at the Riverside Community Arts Association on Feb. 12.
“We are proud of the kind of healthcare we provide for seniors here in Riverside. We hope you will learn something valuable during your stay,” he told the delegation.
Dr. Kaoru Yoshinaga, chairman of the delegation, first expressed his appreciation to the Riverside community for its generous support following the March 11 disaster. Sendai is in Tohoku, one of the regions hit hard by the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Immediately after the disaster, the city of Riverside set up a donation website to provide direct assistance to Sendai. The community raised $500,000 in two months, and Loveridge and the other city officials visited Sendai last May to present a check to Mayor Emiko Okuyama. As of Feb. 12, Riverside has raised $608,000 for Sendai, the largest amount of aid that the city has ever raised for a single cause.
“I would like to thank all the people of Riverside for your support in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in March.” Dr. Yoshinaga reported that most people in Sendai had finally been getting their lives back to normal.
“We are here today to learn about methods you use in Riverside to train and motivate volunteers and other caregivers to provide assistance to seniors.” He explained that in Japan, there are only a few people who actually volunteer at long-term care facilities, even though the demand has been very high due to Japan’s aging society.
“Most of the volunteers are part of event-based, one-time visits, such as a singing group that comes to perform for residents, but nursing home residents are isolated from their families, and many feel lonely,” Yoshinaga said. “What we need are long-term volunteers who come regularly to talk and listen to residents. During this trip, we’d like to learn how to recruit and coordinate volunteers who will forge long-term relationships with our care facilities.”
During their one-week stay, the delegates visited Villa Health Center and Palm Terrace Care Center in Riverside as well as Keiro Nursing Home and Keiro Retirement Home in Los Angeles. They were surprised to see the large number of volunteers working at those facilities, the variety of activities for residents, and residents’ upbeat attitudes.
“It looks like all the volunteers enjoy their duties, and it’s clear that their positive attitudes make the residents happy. The facilities are more accepting and trusting of volunteers, which is very different from Japan. We have more regulations which causes turning away many volunteers,” said Hiroe Noheji, a delegate who works as the general manager of a nursing home in Sendai.
She explained that due to strict regulations, it is harder for facilities in Japan to leave a job up to volunteers.
Yoshinaga said that it was very productive to see how the volunteer system works in the U.S. and learn how it differs from practices in Japan. He hopes this program will continue to be included in their sister city activities so that his organization can invite people from Riverside to Sendai next year.
Maintaining active exchange between the communities is a high priority for both Sendai and Riverside, as their sister city relationship has a rich and long-standing history.
On Mother’s Day in 1951, Sizue Ohwaki, president of the Japanese Association of University Women, and other members visited patients in the Army Hospital in Sendai to pass out carnations and cards. Cpl. Jim Halverson sent his card to his mother, Jessie, who was a member of American Association of University Women in Riverside, and told her about JAUW’s visit.
Their kind action touched her, and a friendship between Ohwaki and Mrs. Halverson eventually led to the establishment of a scholarship fund for female students at Tohoku University to study in Riverside. Because of their friendship, Sendai became Riverside’s first sister city on March 9, 1957.
Thereafter, both cities have hosted numerous youth, citizen, journalist, and cultural exchanges. On their 50th anniversary in 2007, Riverside received a Japanese garden at White Park from Sendai, and Sendai received a giant orange sculpture that commemorates the citrus heritage of Riverside as well as the historic ties between the two cities.
In addition to their bond with Sendai, Japan, Riverside has established sister city relationships with six countries and seven regions. For more information, visit www.irc-riverside.org/.