April is National Volunteer Month - Little Tokyo Service Center

April is National Volunteer Month

April is the National Volunteer Month

April is National Volunteer Awareness Month.  We currently have 74 volunteers helping us in various programs throughout the Social Service Department.  Without the cooperation of our devoted volunteers, we would not be able to provide the level of service that we do.

Today, we would like to introduce the Nikkei Helpline (NHL) volunteer group. Nikkei Helpline was established in 1986 because of an incident with a Japanese mother waded into the ocean at Santa Monica beach with her two children.  Her two children drowned, but the mother survived. If there was a Japanese speaking helpline that offered assistance, this kind of incident could have been avoided. Volunteers responded by establishing a 24-hour hotline. Currently, phone services in Japanese are provided weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

We have asked two NHL volunteers who serve as listeners to the callers to share their passion and experiences of why they choose to volunteer with NHL. Because of the sensitive matter of their work, we are not able to share their identities.

Volunteer One

The reason why I am a volunteer at Nikkei Helpline is that LTSC is a Nikkei organization and we are able to help callers by simply listening and communicating in our native tongue. Regardless of how many years it has been since we left Japan or even with an American
education, Japanese speakers can have a challenging time pronouncing words or communicating in English. Being able to help those who have challenges communicating in the U.S. is very rewarding and LTSC offers a space for this kind of service.

It is common that most public offices, including but not limited to hospitals, social programs, etc. don’t have Japanese interpreters readily available. Because of this, Japanese natives often face challenges in communicating, especially seniors who are not able to use the internet. Regardless of the issue a caller may inquire about, we always make it a priority to listen attentively and refer them to other services that can help them in an efficient manner. Some of the calls may include marital problems, parenting challenges, neighborhood issues just to name a few. Being able to work alongside LTSC’s social services staff has been invaluable in keeping our knowledge and resources up to date.

Volunteer Two

I have been volunteering for over two years with NHL as a listener. The contents of the phone calls we receive vary from day to day, but some may include human relationship issues, legal trouble, parenting, marital problems, etc. Our job as the listener is to gather all the information and make an appropriate referral based on our assessment. We are also happy to serve as active listeners for the callers who just need someone to talk to.

When I was in a training, I was told repeatedly that most important thing as a listener is keichou (傾聴: to hear with not only our ears, but with our other sense as well with an open heart and mind). As a matter of fact, this keichou sounds easy but it is unexpectedly difficult. Keichou is how we should listen based on each caller’s individual situation and listen with empathy. When we listen to their story sincerely, it allows the caller to relax and they are able to sort through their next steps on their own. When I first started volunteering, I almost interrupted the caller in the middle of their story and said, “if I were you, I would do this.”
I quickly realized I did not truly listen to their story Keichou is also helpful in other aspects of life, especially in various relationships. I began to acknowledge the importance of listening rather than talking. To serve as a volunteer listener, we are always happy to listen to one another and enjoy the camaraderie with other volunteers at NHL.

If you are interested in volunteering at Little Tokyo Service Center, please contact our volunteer coordinator, Ikuko at 213-473-3035.


Published in Through the Seasons 2019 Spring Edition.

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