Bay Area Seniors Recognized for Community Service

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SAN FRANCISCO — Nine individuals were recognized at the 24th annual Senior Appreciation Brunch, which was held April 17 at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco Japantown as part of the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

Returning to emcee the Senior Appreciation Brunch for the fifth time was Mike Inouye, NBC Bay Area’s weekday morning traffic anchor and a standup comic, who delighted attendees with his professional stage presence, timing and sense of humor.

Supporters of the event included Kaiser Permanente and the Nikkei Lions Club of San Francisco.

This year the Senior Appreciation Brunch honored senior center coordinators along with others who have been dedicated, selfless volunteers in the Nikkei community. In the past, only seniors volunteering at the centers were recognized.

• Helen Utsumi has been the registrar and secretary and on the program committee of Nikkei and Retirement (formerly Nisei and Retirement) ever since it was established in 1980. She got involved with the group because of her interest in providing educational and informative programs for the older Nikkei population in the San Francisco Bay Area. The thank-you notes from the grateful program participants keeps her committed to continue to help in any way that she can.

• Alice Moriguchi has been involved with Pine United Methodist Church in San Francisco for 45 years and has served as group leader for 40 years. Part of her role as stewardship chair includes setting up monthly meetings for informational presentations, discussions and lunch. The group also regularly provides a crew of volunteers for the Kimochi lunch program to assist with meal service and bussing the dishes, and Moriguchi is one of them. She says the most rewarding part of the job is the fellowship and sense of community.

• Florence Dobashi has been the secretary-treasurer for Nikkei and Retirement for eight years. She became involved with the organization after reading the Japanese American newspapers and seeing articles about the interesting topics that were scheduled to be discussed. She would always ask questions during the Q&A session and her assertiveness prompted the leaders to invite her to join the executive committee. She enjoys doing all of her many assigned tasks in a timely fashion.

• Reyeko Suzuki has been the president of the Resident Council at Kokoro Assisted Living in San Francisco for two years. All the residents are invited to this monthly meeting where residents are encouraged to raise issues of concern amongst their peers without having staff and management present. Suzuki then brings the issues forward to management and provides a monthly report to the Board of Directors to help keep them informed. Oftentimes they will say they have no complaints, but she encourages their participation in the meeting to help make Kokoro a place they can each enjoy.

• Sato Hashizume started helping Nikkei and Retirement in 1981 with special projects and has been the program chairperson for 27 years. She worked with two graduate nursing students to create and distribute a booklet called “Home Care for the Elderly” and followed it up with a workshop. She also conducted an eight-week course called “I Can Cope,” in collaboration with Gale Uchiyama, for cancer survivors and their loved ones. Over the years, she has enjoyed watching the growth and maturity of the members in their understanding of health, financial and social matters pertinent to them.

• Kimi Sato Honda is one the first organizers of Sakura Kai Senior Center  in El Cerrito since it began in 1973 and has been co-assistant coordinator, with Marjorie Fuijoka, for the past 15 years. She has been the organizer of the annual health fair, gathering a wide range of professionals and students that allows the seniors to get a full health exam. Honda is also active in some of the performance groups including dance, and a board member of J-Sei, formerly Japanese American Services of the East Bay.

• Setsuko Doi is the coordinator of Sakura Kai Senior Center and has been involved since 1994. She enjoys seeing the seniors smile and hearing that they look forward to coming to meetings even just for a chat. Sakura Kai has a long waiting list and she works hard to shorten the time it takes to get them through the registration process.

• Steve Nakajo is one of the original founders of Kimochi Inc. and now serves as the executive director. As a young student growing up in Japantown, he was always concerned about the welfare of the community, especially the Issei. He organized a group of Sansei students and volunteers to begin helping the seniors, and that laid the foundation for Kimochi, which now assists approximately 3,000 seniors and families with the help of over 250 volunteers.

• Steve Suzuki is the former president of Kokoro Assisted Living’s Board of Directors and served for 11 years. He began in 1995 as the JARF (Japanese American Religious Federation) Housing Task Force chair to explore possible new projects for the community, then assisted in the incorporation of JALFI (JARF Assisted Living Facility Inc.) and the completion of the building until 2006, when the new board was formed. Suzuki’s hard work is rewarded when he passes the building at night and sees all the lights on in the rooms, knowing that there are folks living and working inside, safe and secure.

Entertainment was provided by Hugo Kitano, a concert pianist and a sophomore at Lowell High School. He studies as a scholarship student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music preparatory division. At age 13, Kitano performed at Carnegie Hall as a winner of both the solo and duo division of American Fine Arts Festival. He has won numerous competitions at local, state and international levels.

The seniors were greeted by Consul General Hiroshi Inomata; State Senators Leland Yee and Mark Leno; San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi; San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting (also a candidate for mayor); Cherry Blossom Festival Co-chairs Richard Hashimoto and Allen Okamoto; Cherry Blossom Queen Jeddie Kawahatsu and First Princess Tamiko Escalante; Dr. Anne Tang of Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center; Lions 4C4 District Governor Mike Simonini; and Senior Appreciation Brunch Co-chairs Karen Fong and Laura Takeuchi.

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