George Yoshida: Volunteering as a Way to Learn
Service defines George Yoshida’s entire adult life. A native of Hawaii and a Korean War veteran, George spent his 35-year career as a clinical social worker at Denver’s National Jewish Hospital, which offered him plenty of opportunities to help others. He and his wife also were cottage parents at a residential treatment facility for youth. But George never had time to volunteer in the community while he worked. Even when he was off duty, he was often on call.
Thirteen years ago, George retired with just one plan: fishing. “My wife said I couldn’t go fishing every day; so I needed to find other things to do,” he says. The couple volunteered to be members of a community relations team at a performing arts center to introduce its programs to new audiences.
Now, at 77, George can barely recall all of his volunteer activities over the years. He helped launch an Asian Film Festival. He served on the board of an organization that helps Asian refugee families acclimate to the community and connects them to support services. He and his wife have volunteered for the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival for 10 years, which has grown to be a major event drawing more than 100,000 people. In 2009, George co-chaired the festival’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s statehood. At Project CURE, George helps pack medical supplies destined for clinics in developing countries.
A lot of George’s volunteering is unstructured. One passion is preserving the legacy of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team from World War II. Comprised of Japanese-Americans, it was the most decorated unit of its kind in the U.S. Army. He also visits schools to share cross-cultural Asian knowledge and awareness with students. This month, he helped mobilize local support for victims of the Japanese tsunami. Next month, George is helping to stage a multicultural Asian cultural program. He’s also helping to promote a book about the Vietnamese boat people.
Several years ago, George received the prestigious Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award, which recognizes unsung heroes in metropolitan Denver. Now he serves on the committee that selects honorees.
“For me, volunteering is a great learning experience.” In college, George was fascinated by cultural anthropology but became a social worker instead. Today, especially in his volunteer work across diverse Asian communities, George is fulfilling his earlier ambition.
How long will George continue to volunteer? “As long as I’m well enough to do so,” he says, before mentioning the next three things on his volunteer plate.