CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Volunteerism Is What Made Keiro So Unique

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WIMPY1By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

(Published Feb. 24, 2016)

What’s in a name? If it’s Ford, you’re rich and famous. Edsel, a failure. I would venture to guess Cam Newton is preferred over Fig Newton. Wimpy is okay, but not a wimp. What happens when a revered name is replaced?

Keiro still exists, technically, but the institution that defined our community doesn’t. The transition from Keiro to Kei-Ai is much more a name change. [Adding to the discontent, CR2S awaits the first to mangle its pronunciation: I’m laying even money it has a chance of becoming Kay-Aye.]

But hey, let’s be fair and magnanimous. Despite the naysayers, I’m in favor of giving the newcomers a chance and see what happens. Whether in agreement with the sale or not, it’s a done deal and no one knows what’s around the corner, let alone five years down the road. One thing is for certain: It will be impossible to shunt the past aside with a simple name change.

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When City View Hospital relocated to its current Lincoln Park site, it was more than a physical move of a half-dozen blocks and a new name. Forward-looking founders, rightfully considered brilliant visionaries, in retrospect were eight gamblers with a dream and hope. That a nursing home was direly needed to care for a rapidly aging Issei generation was the only point of agreement. Everything else was in doubt as there was no model to follow, no predecessor available for guidance. Deciding on the iconic name – Keiro – alone took six months.

The success story has an intriguing history. Only two decades removed from the crippling aftermath of evacuation, Nisei were struggling to establish roots, launching careers, starting families. Prejudice prevailed, political clout was nil, Japan still in the throes of recovery from the ravages of World War II. Amidst this uncertainty, the concept of Keiro emerged. A major fundraising campaign was a monumental challenge, considering local money-raisers in the ’60s were of the raffle ticket variety. [There was a young attorney, Kaz Watanabe, holding classes to teach fellow JA Optimist Club members how to approach and address potential donors.]

Like solving a Rubik’s Cube, Keiro miraculously became a reality. The Edwin C. Hiroto-led nursing facility was quick to fill. Capacity soon proved inadequate, requiring expansion down the hill across from Lincoln Park, the original south adjunct. More beds were soon needed again. The demand led to the opening of Gardena South Bay. Purchase of Jewish Home for the Aged on Boyle Avenue completed the Keiro campus, housing Intermediate Care Facility (ICF, now “Sakura”) and Keiro Retirement Home (still KRH). At every juncture and crisis, our medical professionals were cooperative and supportive.

Family members, relatives and friends of patients and residents began to pitch in to make the lives of residents and patients comfortable and homelike. Individual efforts became support groups. Under the aegis of Margaret F. Hiroto, Family and Friends of Keiro Nursing Home (FFKNH) was formed to coordinate rapidly expanding community activities. She was ably assisted by Suzie Dobashi, her first volunteer. A notable support group were 100th/442nd veterans (pre-hero days,) led by Young Oak Kim and Dick Shinto.

Nothing can compare with this voluntary movement. Individual examples abound: Fumiko Okamura rode a bus all the way from Gardena five days a week to help KRH sewing room. The only reason the arduous travel schedule stopped was because last year she became a resident.

Mickey Maruya was asked by administrator Edwin C. Hiroto to set up a beauty shoppe/barber service. Today, forty plus years later, she still heads a weekly Monday volunteer crew (Ryoko Imada has a team that takes care of ICF residents on Thursdays).

Charter board member Ruth Watanabe enticed pals Betty Yumori and Mary Hatate to join the support ranks of KRH. The duo still maintains a regular on-site schedule.

Comparative newcomers Paul and Pearl Tokuda spend almost as much time on premise as at home. [Examples are endless, apologies to unnamed deserving.]

A wide range of coalitions have been contributors. Enthusiastic groups of young children drop by to visit and entertain, often rehearsing for months to give twenty minutes of lunch-hour pleasure and distribute hand-made gifts. Many prominent entertainers from Japan squeeze in time to perform before an audience that can’t travel to a venue or pay for a public show. A host of ikebana, odori, shamisen, calligraphy and tea ceremony sensei make weekly visitations to teach and perform.

Again, the list goes on and on. Church groups and ex-Nisei Week queens make annual caroling appearances, college kids conduct a Las Vegas afternoon. Business orgs, sports leagues and school classes are also involved.

These pleasures are bonuses, over and above room, board or bed, care and medical attention. Their importance and impact is impossible to quantify. But if someone wants to estimate a monetary value on Keiro volunteerism, be my guest. If anyone dares suggest volunteers discontinue their efforts in protest to the ownership change, be mine enemy!

I talked to one (1) lady who unvolunteered, quitting because of new ownership. She did not wish to aid and abet “the enemy.” My argument that she was abandoning a group of residents in the wake of her decision fell on deaf ears. My belief that the void she left neither helped nor hindered anyone’s bottom line didn’t register. I believe every volunteer is a unique and special contributor. They are neither generic nor benign and act solely for the benefit of Keiro patients and residents. Neither Pacifica, nor affiliates North Star or Aspen, gain a dollar from the program (or lose one).

Is there reason for concern because of a single departure? CR2S conducted a random poll of ICF, South Bay and KRH, which found none reporting a withdrawal. [To be continued.]

W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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