Merrissa Uchimura And Sonya Kimura
Don’t call it a pageant. At least that’s what Merrissa Uchimura (left in photo) and Sonya Kimura say when it comes to the Honolulu Junior Japanese Chamber of Commerce’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival, now in its 58th year of promoting poise, presence, speech and sincerity in young women of Japanese-American heritage.
The event chairwomen have decided to give the festival a face lift for 2010, opting to have all 14 of this year’s queen contestants involved with community service in the months leading up to the March 27 Festival Ball, when a new Cherry Blossom Court and Queen will be chosen.
“The Cherry Blossom Festival has always had this concept of giving back to the community as its underlying core mission. This year, we wanted to get the contestants more directly involved in community service projects so that they have the opportunity to give back while participating in the festival,” explains Uchimura.
“The highlight of being on the court is doing various community service programs. We thought, ‘Why do you have to be a court member to do community service?’ Let’s get the contestants involved in community service projects with the hopes that after the festival is over, they will continue to serve the community,” adds Kimura.
Looks like they’re off to a good start. As the contestants made their first public appearance this past weekend at Kahala Mall, they assisted with a blood drive with the Blood Bank of Hawaii. The young women also created Christmas cards for clients with the Ronald McDonald House over the holidays and will host a dinner for the children’s nonprofit group HUGS (Help, Understanding & Group Support) at the end of this month.
“The vision this year was to mentor the contestants to go out into the world and become leaders,” explains Kimura, a St. Andrew’s Priory grad who has been volunteering with blood drives, the Travel Industry Walk and HUGS Thanksgiving Dinner through HJJCC for the past seven years. “The main focus for me is that each girl walks away with a sense of accomplishment, that win or lose they know they do make a difference.”
“I hope that through these experiences they gain a better understanding of who they are as individuals, their role in our community and an appreciation for their identity as young, professional, Japanese-American women, that they can make a difference in their immediate community, even in a small way,” adds Uchimura, a Kona girl who is currently the interim assistant vice chancellor for students at UH-Manoa.
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