Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

Photo: Takehiko Kambayashi.
Octogenarian app developer Wakamiya Masako creates fabric designs with Excel art (note her shirt) and also games that older people can win against kids.

I know I’m not the only one when I say that I miss Jimmy the Geek. He would make an initial housecall for computer problems, but after that, he’d solve problems over the phone, usually without charge.

Jimmy died two years ago. And I have managed to take care of myself, techwise, mostly by following his approach to finding solutions.

The common wisdom that old folks need to ask children for tech help gives us a bad rap. Many older bloggers know how wrong that is. We have learned to do all sorts of fancy things with WordPress, for example, adapting when the platform makes its endless “improvements.” My grandchildren have no idea how to do this. They could learn it fast, but I would have to teach them.

You can see why I was drawn to today’s story about Wakamiya Masako, 86, who learned to develop a game app at age 82.

Takehiko Kambayashi writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Retired from bank management for about 25 years, she has spent a lot of her time helping older friends and neighbors learn to use smartphones, and she’s developed the theory that they have a hard time because there aren’t games and apps aimed at their age group.  

“One possible solution, she thought, was to create a gaming app to encourage and enchant older people into more comfort with their smartphones. …

“Her idea has made her famous at home and abroad for being one of the oldest app developers in the world, lauded by Japanese leaders and global technology executives for transcending age barriers.  

“ ‘Ms. Wakamiya asked me to develop a gaming app in which seniors can beat young people,’ recalls Koizumi Katsushiro, president of Tesseract, a company that teaches computer programming and app development in the northeastern city of Shiogama. 

“But he suggested she create the app herself, and that he would help her. The energetic Ms. Wakamiya took on the challenge, struggling for six months to create the game. …

“In 2017, at the age of 82, she launched Hinadan. The game features Japan’s traditional Hinamatsuri festival, a celebration of Girls’ Day. On the Hinadan app, which takes its name from a tiered stand for displaying traditional Japanese dolls, users must move dolls – puzzle-like – into appropriate positions according to roles: the emperor and the empress, court ladies, and court musicians with instruments. It has now been released in five languages. 

“ ‘I was pleased with the launch. But I did not think it was such a major achievement,’ says Ms. Wakamiya, surprised at the global interest in her work. 

“Hailing her as the world’s oldest app developer, Apple chief executive Tim Cook invited her to the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, in 2017. …

“Ms. Wakamiya, who serves as vice chair of the Mellow Club, a Japanese online group for older people, soon found herself on the global speaking circuit encouraging older people to overcome discomfort with technology.

“In 2018, she delivered a keynote address at a United Nations conference in New York on ‘Why are digital skills critical for older persons?’ And she has published several books on aging and technology in Japan, including one titled ‘Life Becomes More and More Interesting After 60.’ …

“In Japan, her advocacy for the use of technology at older ages is particularly notable. Japan has struggled with difficult problems associated with its declining birthrate and aging population, including labor shortages and slow economic growth.

“Those age 65 or older account for 29% of Japan’s population. That’s projected to rise to 38% by 2065, estimates the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo. 

“Ms. Wakamiya began using computers a few years before she retired in 1997 in hopes of socializing online while looking after her aging mother at home.

She says she found that, more than just a new way to expand her circle of friends, computer literacy enriched her life with opportunities to broaden her perspective and satisfy her intellectual curiosity.

“The deficit of online material for older people made her get creative: Using Excel spreadsheets, she saw patterns that she translated into art – designs for fabric and paper fans. She calls it ‘Excel art.’ 

“ ‘Excel looks difficult for seniors. But I came up with an idea of drawing designs using its functions. Then, I got so excited as I was able to produce one new pattern after another,’ says Ms. Wakamiya. … 

“Ms. Wakamiya has taught other seniors how to produce artworks online, using the Excel software as a design tool. ‘It’s very important for seniors to be creative and produce something original,’ she says. 

“Ms. Wakamiya, who sits on Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s digital policy committee, is known as an information technology evangelist with a mission to get seniors to acquire digital skills. … On her own initiative, Ms. Wakamiya flew to Estonia, which is pioneering the e-Residency concept of digital nations, in 2019 to see how seniors are able to fit in its e-government systems. She also made a speech and held workshops on Excel art during her stay. …

“Hashimoto Kayoko, retired from her career at a major trading house, stumbled upon Ms. Wakamiya at an Apple store in Tokyo, where she was giving an inspirational speech. ‘It was as though rain in the dark sky suddenly turned to a brilliantly sunny day. Ma-chan lights up my heart,’ she says. ‘Ma-chan shows me a can-do attitude.’

“Ms. Wakamiya, who lectures across Japan, encourages older people to be involved in volunteer work especially because many, particularly men, do not know what they are going to do in their post-retirement life. 

“ ‘While you contribute to society, volunteering can help broaden your perspective by meeting and working with those in different age groups. Some of them have high aspirations,’ she says. … 

“Ms. Wakamiya’s life after retirement made her see things differently because, throughout her four-decade career at a bank, most of her acquaintances were in the same business, she says. She recently realized that often, in Japan’s culture of perfectionism, many people are simply so afraid of failure they won’t try something new.

“ ‘You should not worry about failures. There are no such things as failures,’ she says. ‘To just start something new is deemed a success because you still learn in the process.’ ” 

More at the Monitor, here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: Veronica Blaylock
Lucy Blaylock of Gallatin, Tennessee, makes blankets for kids who need a little extra love.

I’ve shared a lot of articles lately about kids stepping up to help people in distress, but I never get tired of them. Oftentimes, it’s not just the product that matters to recipients, but the sense that someone is thinking of them. Feeling connected to a kind stranger can be as comforting as a favorite blanket.

Andrea Sachs wrote about this at the Washington Post, “Blankets can keep you toasty on cold nights or clean and relatively ant-free on picnics. Lucy Blaylock and Tori Holmes make blankets for a different purpose: to comfort people going through difficult times. … We spoke to the girls, who each won a Prudential Spirit of Community Award, about their inspiration, who has received blankets and how kids can get involved in helping others.

“Lucy learned to sew three years ago, when she was 8. After she made a flannel blanket for a friend’s birthday, she started to think about other kids who might need a little extra love. She asked her parents if she could organize a giveaway and shared her idea on her mom’s Instagram account (lucysloveblankets). She received 16 responses from children facing issues such as cancer, autism, bullying, divorce and the death of a grandmother.

“ ‘It makes me excited when I think of the kids getting the package in the mail and opening it,’ said the 11-year-old, who just completed fifth grade in Gallatin, Tennessee.

‘I always hope they know someone cares about them.’

“Since 2017, Lucy has donated about 500 Lucy’s Love Blankets to kids living in 14 countries and nearly three dozen states. She spends about two hours sewing the fabric by machine and hand-stitching her name inside a heart — her logo, of sorts. During the coronavirus pandemic, she turned her attention to making masks for health-care workers, but she jumps back into blanket action when she receives a request from a child suffering from a terminal illness. ‘Even though it gets a little hard sometimes,’ she said, ‘it is always the right thing to do.’

“For kids interested in volunteering, she recommends they forge ahead without overthinking it. ‘Don’t wait until you have everything figured out. Just do it, and keep going,’ she said. ‘Even when you feel like it might not be making that big of a difference, serving other people always matters.’

“Tori knows firsthand the challenges of being separated from a parent. When she was 6 years old, her mother was hospitalized for six months with leukemia. Tori moved into her aunt’s house, leaving her Corning, New York, home so quickly that she had only enough time to pack an overnight bag.

” ‘I missed my blanket and, of course, I missed my mom,’ the 13-year-old said. … Last July, inspired by her own experience, Tori started to make pairs of blankets for family members kept apart by unfortunate circumstances, such as illness. The parents receive one blanket; the kid gets the other one.

“ ‘I wanted to make a magic blanket that connects people,’ she said. ‘This way they have hope that they will be together again.’ …

“She donates the blankets to a children’s hospital, the medical-care facility that took care of her mother and the school where her mother teaches. Families can also request the twin blankets at operationstarways@gmail.com. …

“Tori, who will enter high school in the fall, said … ‘I want to give people who are going through what I went through hope.’ ”

Read Full Post »

Photo: anekoho/shutterstock
As art classes get cut back, Philadelphia foundations are stepping up to protect a vital part of education.

In this time of cutbacks in school arts programs, it is heartening to see some organizations stepping up to the plate. If the trend continues, we may all need to start volunteering in schools — just as scores of parishioners at my church did for an amazing arts and crafts day yesterday. The only problem is, Who has the time for sustained volunteering when government doesn’t do its part?

In Philadelphia, foundations are providing some respite, as Mike Scutari reports at Inside Philanthropy.

“In June of 2013, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission approved massive cuts in funding in what critics referred to as ‘The Doomsday Budget.’ Cuts included mass faculty layoffs, reduction of materials and athletics programs, and the complete elimination of arts and music programs.

“Four years later, Peter Dobrin, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s culture writer, surveyed the city’s music education landscape and convincingly argued that funders sufficiently rose to the challenge, pointing to city’s web of innovative music education programs, including:

  • Play On, Philly!, launched in 2013 with seed money from Carole Haas Gravagno and the Lenfest Foundation.
  • The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly, which receives support from Impact100, a women’s giving collective.
  • AristYear Philadelphia, which will pay 12 arts teaching fellows in area schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. The Knight Foundation has supported both Artist Year Philadelphia and Play On, Philly!

“Knight is only one of many influential funders active in the city. William Penn Foundation has doubled down on arts education, allocating more than $12 million over the last 4 years …

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, meanwhile, recently awarded more than $2.5 million to a new program called the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth.

“Other examples include the Neubauer Family Foundation, which, in tandem with other local organizations, is ‘working to figure out what arts education programs are here already to determine what’s needed’  …

“The city’s financial woes were so calamitous that, funders, most of whom already had extensive footprints in the city, had no choice but to respond en masse. …

“In many cases, we’re not talking about your standard music education programs.

“Play On, Philly!, for example, is billed as ‘music for social change.’ Its 2017 summer programming included anti-child obesity and ‘active play’ programming at neighborhood recreation centers. ,,,

“More than ever, funders tend to support arts experiences that are immersive, experiential, and drive positive social outcomes.

“Now, consider the supporting role of big data in framing the arts as a means for driving social change.

“Play On, Philly!’s pilot collected data to show that students in the program improve their self-perceptions, academic motivation and school attendance, all while learning to play and perform a musical instrument. …

“Funders, increasingly beholden to this ROI [return on investment] mindset, are more inclined to cut checks when backed by compelling data. …

“All involved parties agree that access and equality is the key. Funders, more than ever, intuitively rally around this idea. Breadth is important, as well — ‘the net must be cast wide to capture all the talent out there,’ said Dorbin. Music education shouldn’t be just for future Julliard students.”

More here.

Read Full Post »

A year ago, I retired from a magazine job I’d held for ten years to see if I could offer more-direct service to people. From January until October I worked at a quasi-public agency that allowed me to connect a bit with lower-income clients. But I wanted to focus more.

What I really wanted to do was to help refugees and other immigrants learn English. So after getting my feet wet in the refugee world as a volunteer blogger for one nonprofit, I retired completely and started to volunteer at three other agencies. So far, it’s tremendously satisfying.

It took a while to set this up, however. It turns out that although most nonprofits need help, few have the infrastructure to move volunteers smoothly into useful roles.

Organizations I reached out to in Massachusetts didn’t respond, and getting a response in Rhode Island required contacting the leadership. Understandably, they then had to take the time to assess whether I had shown any previous interest in helping immigrants with English. (I had life experiences and volunteering that related, but for work that was exactly the same as what I wanted to do, I could claim only a few hours on a United Way Community Care Day.)

The largest organization, an official resettlement agency, wanted to see if I could be empathetic to frustrated adult learners who might have been accomplished in their home countries and were now starting from scratch with a whole new alphabet. And they needed to evaluate whether as an unpaid person I would show up consistently.

Their schedules weren’t necessarily my ideal schedule, but I finally cobbled something together that keeps me busy two and a half days a week.

I definitely had to talk some people into it. At one place where I now volunteer two mornings a week, the teacher hadn’t answered the email I sent after the volunteer coordinator gave it to me. I tried again. She then responded that she had enough volunteers but I could come observe. So I showed up. And stayed. Believe me, she has really needed me with her large class of immigrants, many of whom arrived only months ago from the Congo or Syria.

One aspect of the work that has been particularly interesting has been comparing three different organizations and three different approaches to teaching English. The differences relate in part to students’ different levels of English. In addition to those who have just arrived, there are people who may have been in Providence many years but could function just fine using Spanish. There are others who had no schooling as children and may turn written pages upside down.

I am learning, meeting new people, and having new experiences, which I love. I love seeing someone’s face light up when they suddenly “get it.” I love feeling like this work is important.

Many people I know are asking themselves lately, “What can I do?” There are needs out there in many different fields of interest. I think all the seekers will eventually find the right thing. It may take a while to put it together.

Photo: Genesis Center
Immigrants having fun with learning at Genesis Center in Providence.

Read Full Post »

Holly Hall writes at the Chronicle of Philanthropy that teens are more likely to do volunteer work if there’s a social aspect.

“More than half of American teenagers and young adults volunteered [in 2011], and the best way to enlist this group turns out to be peer pressure: Three quarters of people ages 13 to 22 whose friends volunteer regularly also do so, which is nearly twice the number of those who pursue voluntary activities based on their concern about particular social issues. …

“Those were the key findings of new research results released [Oct. 24] by DoSomething.org, a group working to get young people involved in social change.” More.

At the high school Suzanne and John attended, volunteering was required. But they also did things that just interested them. I remember Suzanne in a play targeting the cycle of domestic violence and John working on peace and justice activities.

The organization pictured below is City Year, “an education focused, nonprofit organization that unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service to keep students in school and on track to graduation.”

Suzanne’s friend Lisa did a City Year and thought it very worthwhile. Today, I often see the kids in their distinctive jackets on the train, and I once went door-to-door to help City Year’s public-spirited cofounder in a primary election for the Senate.

Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP/File
City Year volunteers sing the national anthem outside Faneuil Hall in Boston. The volunteers age 17 to 24 will work in a variety of community-service programs. The best way to encourage teens to volunteer is to make it a way to get together with their friends, a new report suggests.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: