American Volunteerism Revisited in National Volunteer Month

By Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs

“Well, somebody’s got to write these things.  And the same can be said for collecting garbage and shoveling snow.  It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not — a job’s a job.  For three and a half years, I’d been making this kind of contribution to society.  Shoveling snow.  You know, cultural snow.”

– Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

In April, the U.S. celebrates National Volunteer Month where volunteerism is recognized, inspired and encouraged in every community around the world.  Numerous organizations throughout Yokosuka Naval Base also have historically engaged in volunteer work, such as visiting children’s homes, participating in cultural exchanges and supporting facilities for the mentally challenged.  Recently, March 11 also marked the 5th anniversary of the 9.0 earthquake which struck the north of Japan, and the American volunteer spirit through the following rescue operation both by the U.S. military and civilians was widely acknowledged by Japanese survivors.

Volunteerism in America

While volunteering helps career and professional development, it also promotes social networking and – more personally – self-confidence.  Recent studies also suggest health benefits, awareness of self-importance and even life longevity.

An April 11, 2011 issue of Seahawk/Umitaka, Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka’s newspaper, carried an article about Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center volunteers, in conjunction with FLEACT Yokosuka, collecting relief supplies for the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

An April 11, 2011 issue of Seahawk/Umitaka, Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka’s newspaper, carried an article about Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center volunteers, in conjunction with FLEACT Yokosuka, collecting relief supplies for the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“[Volunteering] is an evolving field of research,” says Eric Kim, a research fellow in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in the article Can volunteering lead to better health?  “But one of the possible explanations that people have come up with is that it increases a sense of purpose in life, which has been seen to be a driving factor for a lot of positive health outcomes.  Volunteering also increases social connections, which have been linked to better health for a wide range of reasons.”

According to Kim, co-workers who volunteer together can also provide and receive instrumental support, such as sharing tangible resources and services like rides to work or medical appointments.  Social networks also offer emotional and psychological support, leading to lasting positive impacts to one’s health.

Additionally, in the article Why Volunteering Is Good for your Business, JPMorgan Chase’s Global Philanthropy Team Northeast Regional Managing Director Michael Haberman claims that volunteering “allows employees to break out of their ‘comfort zone’ and develop other skills away from the office.”  It gives opportunities for exposure to new environments, challenges and chances to develop valuable soft skills, such as project management, goal-setting, communication and evaluation.

The World Giving Index by Charities Aid Foundation has continued to place the U.S. as one of the top contributors who give and help others most around the world.  The U.S. shared first rank with Myanmar in 2014, and it was second place in 2015.

As French philosopher and aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his work Democracy in America (1835 and 1840), the U.S. is a nation of “joiners.”  In his book, he frequently and passionately wrote of his discovery that Americans’ commitment to volunteerism and working together for the common good is a fundamental of American civic society.

“Operation Tomodachi”: Commemorating the 5th Year after The Great East Japan Earthquake

March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Japan and was later deemed “The Great East Japan Earthquake.”  Following the earthquake, a tsunami devastated large areas of northern Japan’s Tohoku region, which is renowned for its natural wealth in fishing and agriculture.  Not including those still missing, there were more than 21,000 deaths from the combined disasters.

Since the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, U.S. Naval service members participated in the relief operation called “Operation Tomodachi (friend).”  Various Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka base commands, including Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC), contributed volunteer work to the relief efforts.

The following week, SRF-JRMC Spouses’ Club and FLEACT Yokosuka held a donation drive for dry and canned foods, winter clothes and sanitary supplies for the disaster victims.  The volunteer teams also coordinated relief efforts for the voluntary military assisted departure (VMAD), such as personnel transportation; shared essential information with employees, their families, and other commands; raised donations for survivors; and helped ships get underway, including those in lengthy maintenance availabilities.

To this day, SRF-JRMC advocates and encourages countless opportunities to commit, engage and contribute to the local community and the host country.

Volunteer Works by SRF-JRMC Organizations

In light of National Volunteer Month and the mutual friendship between the U.S. and Japan, several SRF-JRMC private organizations are highlighted for their continuous charity to their local communities:

Yokosuka Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) volunteers set up booths every year at the annual Shiratori-en Opening Day. Shiratori-en is a local residential and outpatient facility for the mentally and physically challenged. SRF-JRMC also contributes to the facility in organizing, coordinating and providing gifts for their annual holiday party. (Photo by Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs)

Yokosuka Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) volunteers set up booths every year at the annual Shiratori-en Opening Day. Shiratori-en is a local residential and outpatient facility for the mentally and physically challenged. SRF-JRMC also contributes to the facility in organizing, coordinating and providing gifts for their annual holiday party. (Photo by Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs)

The SRF Friendly Society: Comprised of more than 1,700 Japanese Master Labor Contract (MLC) employees.  They sponsor the command’s annual New Year Ceremony and Bon Odori Summer Festival events.  The group also collects donations and coordinates the annual holiday party for Shiratori-en, a local residential and outpatient facility for the mentally and physically challenged.  They also sing holiday carols and dress as animal characters to entertain Shiratori-en residents and families at the holiday party.

SRF-JRMC’s Wardroom: Its mission is to develop leadership, promote fellowship and promote SRF-JRMC’s good reputation.  Currently consisting of 12 U.S. Naval officers, active duty and retired, the group sponsors charitable work within the SRF-JRMC organization, on base (FLEACT Yokosuka ) and within the city of Yokosuka.  Shiratori-en also benefits from Wardroom members’ various volunteers during grounds upkeep and monetary annual donations, which are given to the SRF-JRMC Friendly Society to chip in for Shiratori-en’s holiday party gift costs.

Chief Petty Officer Association (CPOA): The group’s mission ensures professional excellence, promotes camaraderie, fosters mentorship and practices good leadership.  Currently, there are 40 U.S. Naval active duty and retired Chief Petty Officers (E-7 to E-9) members.  They host food fundraisers throughout the year in support of Shiratori-en as well as the Chief Petty Officer Scholarship Fund (CPOSF) for high school students pursuing higher education or current undergraduate students.  Since the cost of higher education is rising every year, the mission of the Board of the CPOSF is to generate and distribute funds for educational opportunities for qualified family members.  Similarly, the CPOA’s fundraisers serve as opportunities for social and intercultural exchange for the SRF-JRMC workforce – MLC employees and U.S. Navy, civil service and government contractor personnel.

The Blue Collar Association (BCA): The BCA’s mission is to develop relationships between the command’s U.S. Navy personnel E-6 and below (active or retired) and offer an open forum for discussion concerning the command and the organization.  Additionally, the group serves to maintain the morale and welfare of its members, the command and the local community by planning and coordinating various functions and activities.  They hold food fundraisers such as taco, hotdog and sandwich sales, of which all proceeds support annual command events including the command’s holiday party and Shiratori-en’s holiday party.  Together with the SRF-JRMC Wardroom, the CPOA and the Welfare and Recreation Committee, the BCA is always ready to supply direct support for many community service functions.

The Welfare and Recreation Committee: Membership is open to all U.S. Naval and civilian service and Japanese MLC personnel.  Any employee may attend committee meetings to support the community and the command.  Their mission is to support the morale and welfare of SRF-JRMC employees and promote intercultural understanding and friendly relations between American and Japanese families, friends and communities.  The group assists in food fundraisers within the command and event set-up for FLEACT Yokosuka base-wide events, such as the annual Spring Festival held in March.  Their proceeds also help fund the annual SRF-JRMC holiday party, annual children’s holiday party, SRF-JRMC Friendly Society and other community-related projects, which are open to the entire command’s U.S. and Japanese workforce and their families.

 “[By volunteering,] I discovered camaraderie.  I realized that communication is everything, and I learned how to lead senior personnel to a common goal – which is not easy,” said Senior Chief Electronics Technician Dominique Taylor, a member of the command’s Chief Petty Officer Association.

“Everyone has their own way of doing things,” added Taylor. “I’ve learned to use resources and listen to others, because everyone has their own unique way of thinking based on their life experiences.  Another person’s point of view might provide additional information that you were not aware of and can save you time.  Even if their way may not work for you, think about it and make an informed decision.”

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