Community, service members celebrate years of friendship
KIN TOWN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Festive music played as community members, Marines and sailors gathered Sept. 14 to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the opening of the Hikarigaoka Nursing Home and the nearly 20 years of ongoing friendship between the residents and 7th Communication Battalion.
The Marine and Navy volunteers have visited the nursing home twice a month in recent years to provide grounds maintenance and engage in fellowship.
During the visits, the volunteers mow and rake the grass, and trim trees, according to Navy Lt. Stephen F. Brown, the 7th Comm. Bn. chaplain, a unit with III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF.
The relationship between the battalion and the nursing home started with Chiyoko Kochi, who formerly served as the Camp Hansen community relations specialist, and wanted to educate the Marines and sailors about Okinawa culture and build bonds between the nursing home residents and service members, according to Ayako Ginoza, the nursing home manager.
During the event, the nursing home residents and the service members enjoyed a performance by the Kin Junior High School band and a traditional eisa dance. For some of the Marines, this marked the first time they volunteered in the community.
The service members view their relationship with the nursing home as a way to become more directly involved in the local community, and many take advantage of this opportunity, according to Lance Cpl. Yvonne E. Sanchez, a supply administration and operations specialist with the battalion.
In the past, as a sign of their appreciation for the service members’ friendship and assistance, the Hikarigaoka residents have invited the volunteers to local festivals and cultural exchanges like mochitsuki ceremonies, a traditional rice-pounding event, according to Lt. Col. Ken Sandler, the commanding officer.
“We’ve also tried to share important American holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas (with the residents),” said Sandler. “Because of that (exchange), Okinawa culture has taken on a deeper and more significant meaning for every Marine and sailor in 7th Comm. Bn.”
The residents have made the service members feel at home during the visits, which uplifts those Marines and sailors whose families reside in America, according to Sandler. The Hikarigaoka residents have always been very welcoming when the volunteers come to help with the grounds.
“We’re very happy,” said Ginoza, when discussing the long history of camaraderie between the residents and the Marines. “We want to continue this strong relationship.”