The Power Of Volunteering

Susan Sunderland
Wednesday - July 04, 2008
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The volunteering Matayoshis (from left) Kelly, Scot, Coralie (holding Scout), Ron, Alana
The volunteering Matayoshis (from left) Kelly, Scot, Coralie (holding Scout), Ron, Alana

As the Matayoshi clan knows, and shows, serving others is as good for you as it is for those you serve

How much do we rely on volunteers? Let us count the ways.

The upcoming Beijing Olympics needs 100,000 of them. China’s earthquake recovery effort in Sichuan Province was supported by more than 35,000 Red Cross volunteers. More than a million persons have served in Katrina recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast, making it the largest volunteer response in American history.

Closer to home, more than 7,000 volunteers helped rebuilding efforts on Kauai after devastating Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Every day,in large and small ways, volunteers step up to help neighbors and friends in times of need. They comprise a priceless resource in our community known as our “social capital.”

Someone who is passionate about social capital is educator and community service leader Ron Matayoshi. The Hilo native is director of international programs at the University of Hawaii’s School of Social Work.For the past 18 years, he served as director of practicum for the school, providing students with experience in community service to supplement their academic pursuits in social work.

It’s what his mother, Mary Matayoshi, another champion of volunteerism, calls “experiential learning.”

These two forces - community service and knowledge - inspired the mother-and-son team to organize the Asia Pacific Volunteer Leadership Conference, a first-of-its kind symposium on managing and making the best use of volunteer resources.

Early registration is now open for the conference, set for Sept. 16-18 at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The world’s leading volunteer management experts are coming from the U.S. mainland, Japan, Thailand, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Workshops will focus on four timely issues: volunteer management, disaster readiness and recovery, opportunities for the aging, and pathways to peace and service.

This meeting of the minds can’t happen soon enough.

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics,Americans are volunteering at historically high rates, with 61.2 million dedicating 8.1 billion hours of service in 2006 to help others by mentoring students, beautifying neighborhoods, restoring homes after disasters and much more.

On the average, Honolulu had approximately 166,000 volunteers, who served 25.2 million hours per year between 2004 and 2006. These include teens, baby boomers and senior citizens. More young people also are becoming involved in their communities through school-based service-learning and volunteering.

Ron Matayoshi is planning an international volunteerism conference
Ron Matayoshi is planning an international volunteerism conference

According to Matayoshi, volunteering is no longer just a nice thing to do. It is a necessary aspect of meeting the most pressing needs facing our nation: crime, gangs, poverty, disasters, illiteracy and homelessness.

“I’ve always volunteered,” Matayoshi, 54, says, recalling his early community service projects in hometown Hilo.“You don’t learn volunteerism, you just do it. The attitude of helpfulness comes naturally.”

It’s a personal trait and family value nurtured by his mom, executive director of the Volunteer Resource Center of Hawaii (VRCH), and his father, Herbert Matayoshi, former Big Island mayor.

“We believe in stewardship, that volunteerism is a necessity for the well-being of our neighbors and our community,“his mother says.“We can and we must do better at respecting differences and joining together to make our communities stronger, safer and healthier.”

Mary Matayoshi taught her son that volunteering is crucial for the well-being of our community
Mary Matayoshi taught her son that volunteering is crucial for the well-being of our community

Mary Matayoshi has passed down this important legacy to her four children and 11 grandchildren.

In fact, Ron’s family is a shining example of community-centric souls. His wife, Coralie, is CEO of the American Red Cross Hawaii Chapter.His son Scot has been with Teach for America for two years at Nanakuli Intermediate School, where he started a Peacemakers Club. Daughter Kelly is a Special Olympics coach and teaches Red Cross swimming lessons. Daughter Alana, a freshman at Santa Clara University, volunteers at basketball clinics for young athletes.

Matayoshi himself is involved in peacemaking efforts through the Shinnyo-en Foundation and Na Lei Aloha Foundation. His UH job and connection with VRCH involves him in social work and volunteerism on a global basis.

Education is one of the most important contributors to a community’s volunteer rate. Surveys show that as education levels increase, the likelihood of volunteering also rises. Matayoshi adds that education also fosters organizational and communication skills necessary for successful civic engagement and leadership.

“Students with experience in the international arena come back home with a change in the way they see the world and their community,” Matayoshi says.“They are empowered to make change.”

It is this inspiring journey to change that is the focus of the upcoming Asia Pacific Volunteer Leadership Conference.

For conference registration, contact VRCH at 236-9201 or online at Three-day fee: $375 before July 31; $425 after Aug. 31.


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