By Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan — Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) members recently volunteered at Miura Shiratori-en, an institution for the mentally and physically challenged.
The volunteers spent the day completing heavy-duty and detailed yardwork, such as mowing and pruning outgrown lawns, shrubs and weeds, Oct. 3.
Volunteers consisted of SRF-JRMC employees, their family members and friends, and three USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) crew members. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class and Shiratori-en Volunteer Event Coordinator Alberto Alejo recruited nearly 30 people for this community service event, including first-time volunteer and new SRF-JRMC member Lt. Cmdr. Carlito Dacoco. Alejo is a Navy Diver with SRF-JRMC.
“It always feels good to be out in the open — fresh air and the like,” said ND1 Alejo. “And it feels equally good to contribute to our local community.”
Akiko Mukai, a volunteer and former Shiratori-en employee, highlighted an observable benefit of the volunteers’ service work: “As the grass grows higher and thicker, the people here often trip on the weeds. Short trimmed grass will help them walk or play in the field more easily and safely.”
For one of the volunteers, landscaping brings back memories of his youth. “During my high school and college years, I had a similar part-time job,” said William Porter, an English Language Instructor of SRF’s English Language Training Division and a regular volunteer. “So when I [do yardwork], the smell of grass brings back good memories of my school days.”
For the others, the volunteer work also serves as a weekend opportunity to nurture one’s health and well-being.
“I remember it was June when we came here last time,” said Electronic Technician First Class Phillip Banks. “On a nice day like this, doing yard work is good to me — mentally and physically.”
In the perspective of relationship-building and self-reflection through community service, SRF-JRMC Deputy Commander Edward Katz said: “It’s easy for us Sailors to live on the base and then sail off on the ship without feeling like we are living in somebody else’s home. But we are, and we live in the Japanese home. Sailors tend to take that for granted. Coming to Shiratori-en brings two communities together and teaches them to be humble and respectful. We are not special; we are all community here.”
“I really appreciate the SRF people’s work,” said Shinya Sugawara, Shiratori-en’s coordinator. “We can’t do it on our own. People with strong physique are a great help to us. You see how fast they mow the grass! People in our neighborhood see the SRF volunteers work on our premise, and they may find how international our place is! Their contributions help Shiratori-en define itself as important and blend into our neighborhood community at the same time.”
Since 1963, SRF-JRMC has maintained a 52-year relationship with Miura Shiratori-en. The command’s personnel have contributed to the facility through other various works, such as assisting their annual Open Day event activities and fundraising for their annual Christmas party. “We have been doing it for so long,” said SRF-JRMC Command Master Chief Alberto Lapid. “It may look the same every time, but our continuous support is what counts.”
Miura Shiratori-en was originally established as Nagasawa-gakuen, a prefectural “special care school” for children with disabilities in 1958. Along with 1983’s legislation of mandatory education for those children, they began to admit adult residents and outpatients. Since 2011, Miura Shiratori-en has been run under a designated administrator system, in which an appointed private sector company runs the facility. Seiwakai, a Social Welfare Service Foundation, currently manages the facility.