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Americans and Okinawans give their time to local children

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-09-18

Giving kids some affection and fun is what volunteers from the "Community Action Council" look forward to a few times a year. The group, which was established in 1990, began with a few people from the military community wanting to help out a local children's home. They approached the Ishimine Children's Home, located in Shuri, and they soon found themselves together with many happy faces. Since those early days, many volunteers from all walks of life have given their time to the project, contributing to its success.

One of the more popular events the group has been organizing since 1994 is their annual beach party. This year the party took place on Sunday, August 23. It brought about 80 American and Okinawan volunteers together with approximately 50 children and 15 staff members for a fun filled day at the Kadena Marina. Volunteers prepared an outdoor barbecue for the kids, and staff from the Ishimine Children's Home helped with various activities and with translating. A piņata was also brought in, which provided loads of entertainment and laughs for everyone.

"Team Over", a local Okinawan jet ski club, gave the children free rides during the day long event. The club provided the children with a thrill they probably will find hard to forget. The club's members became involved with the beach party four years ago through fellow club member, Ray Richards. He has also been with the Community Action Council since 1993, and he currently serves as the council's president. Richards thought it would be a good idea to get his jet ski buddies involved with the children, and asked them to volunteer themselves and their machines one year. The result has been many smiling children and also a very rewarding and enjoyable experience for the 15 members of "Team Over". "The jet skiing means a lot to them (children). A lot of folks don't normally get to ride jet skis," explained Richards. "Getting my friends from the jet ski club to come out also gets Okinawans helping Okinawans."

Other volunteers voiced their satisfaction of having been their to participate. "It was a lot of fun. All the kids seemed really excited to ride on the jet skis and eat some American food," said first time volunteer, Keith Parker. "It's something that I would like to do again."

Another volunteer, Charles Becker, commented, "I went in feeling happy to provide an opportunity to give the kids a fun day - that's what it's all about. I think it turned out great."

The staff of the children's home also believe the outings are excellent for the children. "The kids always have much fun. At first there was a language problem, but the kids and the volunteers have learned to communicate with each other using gestures and simple phrases. It has been a good experience for everyone," said Director Eijun Ishigaki

The Community Action Council also organizes a Christmas party every year, which draws the support of about 100 volunteers. A Christmas turkey dinner is provided, along with many gifts for all the children. Songs, games, and plenty of that warm, Christmas spirit help to make the day a real success for all the children and staff involved. The group has also received help from local motorcycle clubs and the SeaBees, who have donated gifts in the past. Working together with the American community, volunteers collect gifts by handing out children's names to individuals wishing to support their cause. Each name is written together with other information, such as age and whether the child is a boy or a girl. The sponsors use the information to help them choose and donate a Christmas present for each child.

Richards explained that the dedication by many different people is what makes both the beach party and the Christmas party able to happen. "We give a little to those who do not have as much," he said. "It's always worth it - the smiling faces."

The group's members are looking to schedule a few more volunteer events, and they will soon be getting ready for the upcoming Christmas party. Anyone who is interested in volunteering at any one of the Community Action Council's functions can contact Ray Richards at 634-3390.

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