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Lions Roar : November 2016
Helping Hawaii’s Elderly Rose Nakamura, cofounder of Project Dana When Rose Nakamura was growing up in Hilo, Hawaii, her par- ents shared their meals for ten years with a neighbor who was widowed. It was a lesson in giving she never forgot. “Even a little thing, like a smile or asking someone how they are, can make a big difference in somebody’s life,” says Nakamura. After teaching health and physical education at the Uni- versity of Hawaii at Hilo, Nakamura went on to work with international students at Honolulu’s East-West Center, an organization dedicated to strengthening relations among the peoples of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. In 1989, after twenty-five years as a teacher and mentor there, she retired. But she didn’t retire from helping others. “My good friend Shim Kanazawa, who’s nationally known for her advocacy, brought up the idea of giving more attention to seniors,” Nakamura recalls. “Social isolation is a huge prob- lem. As people get old, they can’t drive, they can’t go shopping for food, they can’t get to medical appointments.” With Kanazawa, Nakamura founded Project Dana, an inter- faith volunteer program that serves the elderly and disabled to ensure their well-being, independence, and dignity. It’s guided by the Buddhist principle of dana, which means selfless giving and compassion without desire for recognition or reward. Project Dana is now a coalition of thirty-two churches and temples across Hawaii, with 850 volunteers serving 1,000 people. Volunteers work a total of 50,000 hours annually. It col- laborates with more than 150 public and private agencies, and has branches in Japan and California. “Dana becomes a joy, both to the giver and to the people we serve,” Nakamura says. Project Dana offers home visits, tele- phone visits, respite care, home-safety assessments, transpor- tation for medical appointments, grocery shopping, religious services, hospital and care-home visits, minor home repairs, and light housekeeping. It also has a Caring for the Caregiver support group and a Persons in Need Fund for seniors. Nakamura notes that Hawaii leads the nation in life expect- ancy. That means there is a greater percentage of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, along with a higher percentage of falls occurring in the home. “Right now, our priority is effecting positive changes in the home,” she says. “We are very involved in learning more about dementia, forgetfulness, and Alzheimer’s, and we’re trying to increase our fall-prevention and home-safety awareness.” Nakamura has a special memory of each person she has helped. “There is a woman who lives alone who requested our services around four years ago,” she says. “She didn’t speak English and needed help with shopping. Not many of our vol- unteers are bilingual, so I responded to her request, and since then I have been shopping for her every week.” That has grown into a relationship that involves all sorts of different tasks, from reading her mail to her, to finding some- one to do her taxes. “I help her in whatever way I can,” says Nakamura. The more Project Dana grows, the more need Nakamura sees for its services. She is willing to do whatever it takes to see that more people receive help, for, as she says, “Caregiving is every- body’s business.” Project Dana brings together more than 850 volunteers to help seniors and the disabled with home services ranging from emer- gency funding to a friendly visit to ward off loneliness. “Social isolation is a huge problem,” says cofounder Rose Nakamura. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2016 68