Spirit of giving
On a crisp Nov. 14 afternoon, Carolyn Scully joins a handful of international volunteers to serve up rice, cups of noodles and beverages to more the 200 homeless men shuffling single file past a row of folding tables. It’s a familiar scene that’s taken place in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park for the past 15 years.
I came with camera in hand to tell this story. But for volunteers like Scully, who has been here most Fridays for the past five years – and countless other members of U.S. military communities throughout the Pacific – showing up to help out is just the right thing to do.“God gave me a heart of compassion for the homeless in Hawaii and since I’ve been living in Japan, the homeless in Japan,” says the Camp Zama resident. “We want our children to learn that living your life is not just about them, but about helping other people.”
The holiday season is a special time of year chock-full of feasts, family gatherings and heartfelt religious observances. Whether giving thanks or gift giving, for many it is also about “the spirit of giving.” So I figured who better to ask about it than those who give back to the community year round.
Sure, many told me, it takes motivation, time and effort. But they also said the real gift is the personal satisfaction they get from dedicating that time and effort to lending a helping hand.
For Lt. Col. Robert Taylor, for example, volunteering as a sports coach at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, is a way to spend more time with his two kids while doing something he loves. It turned out to be more of a challenge than he expected, but the rewards far outweighed the challenge.
“Yes, there were challenges. Yes, I learned things about myself that I didn’t know or had forgotten since I was young enough to play sports,” said Taylor. “But the best part about getting involved was knowing I was able to positively influence the next couple of generations of our children.”
All the volunteers I talked to had to start with a deliberate decision to act. When, how and what they started is as varied as individual life styles and factors such as family status, foreign language skills and work schedules. Scully, for example, joined up with a local Christian group off base. This also raises the question of where to start.
U.S. military instillations throughout the Pacific offer opportunities to volunteer at, or via, the Red Cross, USO, schools and a variety of on-base clubs. Many chaplains offices also offer volunteer opportunities – especially for anyone looking to get involved in communities outside the gates.
“We have variety of work and projects,” said James Corneliussen, religious education director at Camp Zama. “The beauty about the chapel is that all the people are doing it because they care, and another wonderful thing is that it is organic. So as the community sees a need, a volunteer will step up and meet the need. And we all support with that effort.
“I don’t tell them what they should be doing,” he added. “They go ‘hey, there is a family out there who needs help, let’s do something to try to help those family.’
Since 2012, volunteers from Zama’s U.S. Army Garrison Japan have organized more than 11 disaster relief trips nearly 300 miles north to Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, to help survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Corneliussen said he has seen real growth in the youth who have participated in volunteer work in the devastated region.
“I think they learn humility,” he said. “At least, I would like to think that they learn to put others a head themselves. That is certainly a core value that we all should learn. I think they leave changed, with a different understanding of the world around them, with a bigger picture how they fit in that world.”
Helping to preserve or improve the environment is another way military community members give back to local communities – often while getting back to nature themselves.
Tech Sgt. Jacob Westad, of Andersen Air Force Base’s 734th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, volunteers for conservation projects with 36th Civil Engineer Squadron’s environmental team and the University of Guam. They include reforestation of rare trees on Guam. In July, the support flight NCO-in-charge also helped assess the island’s fruit bat population.
“I volunteer so that the local population can have a safe environment and share a love of the outdoors and a respect for the surroundings,” said Westad. “My understanding of nature helps me realize how important it is to balance the wildlife in a given area in order to sustain healthy vegetation levels, which in turn provides for healthier herds of animals.”
Sometimes, as with Dennis Provencher of Okinawa, that motivation to help can start with something as small as answering a simple call to donate – and lead to something as big as a world record that helps save lives.
The 81-year-old retired Air Force staff sergeant says he never thought that he would hold the 2002 Guinness World Records certificate for donating the most blood – 28 gallons. But he does. And to date, he has given 37 gallons of blood. But he insists it’s no bigger deal than it was when he first gave blood 46 years ago.
“While going to radio operator school in Boloxi, Miss., the first sergeant came to the barracks one day and said, ‘anyone who wants a steak served by a pretty girl, come with me.’ That was my first blood donation,” he says. “By the way, the steak was good and the girl was so-so.”
Provencher modestly chalks up his years of blood-giving to laziness because, “you can only give blood every 57 days; that’s a lot of time off.” But it’s meant a lot to others. After much prying, he finally admits, “I have been told that I have directly helped save four people.”
Blood is not all Provencher gives back to his community. An Okinawa resident for the past 53 years, he is a familiar face in the local military community when it comes to raising funds for groups such as the Veterans of Foreign War, USO, Boy Scouts of America and the Red Cross.
“The reason I like doing this,” he says laughing, “is I like to see some of my friends run away when they see me coming, knowing I’m looking for money.”
These and other opportunities to volunteer can be found virtually everywhere. Some are advertised throughout your base in chapels, Red Cross offices or on social media. Many others may simply be waiting for you to discovery them. The reward is likely to be priceless.
“Just do something,” said Camp Zama’s Corneliussen. “It can be anything. Start small and then go from there. It will speak to your spirit. It is contagious. So when you do it once, you’ll want to keep doing it.”
★ American Red Cross Okinawa: americanredcrossokinawa.org
★ USO Okinawa: pac.uso.org/okinawa
★ Camp Foster Marine Gift Shop: Do you love to shop? Do you love giving to charities? Members of the Marine Officers’ Spouses’ Club of Okinawa (MOSCO) can do both as volunteers at the Marine Gift Shop.
★ Okinawa-American Animal Rescue Society: The only animal rescue group on Okinawa registered as a non-profit with both Marine Corps Community Services and Kadena Air Base, OAARS works with base and local communities to rescue abandoned, mistreated and lost animals. Volunteer opportunities range from board member or coordinator to foster home.
★ The School of New Thought: This vocal advocate for the hungry and those in need travels to every corner of Okinawa to help children and families in need. www.theschoolofnewthought.com
★ Super Woman Outreach of Okinawa: This team of ladies is dedicated to assisting orphanages on Okinawa. It is currently accepting infant to teenage (girls/boys) clothing to donate to the orphanages. For more information about volunteering or donating clothing, check them out at: www.facebook.com/superwomenoutreachokinawa