Older Japanese-American adults exercising

On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Japanese American and Japanese older adults gather at the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center (ESGVJCC). When they arrive, the older adults make their way into the facility’s social hall and sit together at long, white tables anticipating the day’s activities that await them. On this particular day, the ESGVJCC staff has planned an arts and crafts activity: making lanterns. Using a heated surface and crayons, the seniors melt colorful designs onto opaque wax paper, exercising creativity and using their fine motor skills to decorate four sides of a cube-shaped lantern.

Elderly woman holding her handmade paper lantern

As the participants begin to complete their lanterns, the activity comes to a close and two ESGVJCC staff members make their way to the front of the room. They set two chairs down on a raised platform opposite of the crowd, facing outward, towards about 25 older adults and begin playing music in preparation for an exercise class. As The Beatles’ Hello Goodbye comes out through overhead speakers, the older adults dance and move their bodies in time with the two instructors, lightly exercising to maintain range of motion and retain strength.

Younger woman standing and caring for older woman sitting.

“I think the seniors in our population need a place where they can come and reduce social isolation… and then also, keeping their mental capacity at the highest level it can by doing different activities and challenging them, and also challenging their bodies,” said Pearl Omiya, ESGVJCC’s executive director.

As we age, it is important to pay attention to the eight dimensions of wellbeing. In putting together arts and crafts and participating in an exercise routine, the ESGVJCC is addressing the occupational, physical, social, and intellectual dimensions.

More Older Japanese-American adults exercising

Following the exercise class, the older adults take their seats to enjoy an authentic, Japanese lunch at a minimal cost to themselves. Carted out from the kitchen to the social hall, cups of soba and trays of fruit are distributed to the older adults. With the help of two new refrigerators purchased via grant funding from Keiro, Chef Ryo Sato prepares meals for the older adults at the ESGVJCC. Ms. Omiya said, “We’re so lucky that Chef Sato has volunteered his time, but we pay for his expenses and pay for his time and now we’re able to do that with the grant funding.”

Meals created by Chef Ryo Sato

In addition to the Senior Wellness Program, the ESGVJCC also has a program called the DISKovery Center. In DISKovery Center, older adults are taught the basics of how to use computers ranging from simply turning on the computer and using the mouse to using Gmail and the Office Suite. Now, the ESGVJCC’s DISKovery Center programming includes using a smartphone, Facetime, text messaging, and email. According to Ms. Omiya, “A lot of them may have their children up north or in different states, but this way they can contact their grandkids and contact their kids on a daily basis. They’re able to connect with each other and text message, trying to keep these social connections very much a part of their daily life.”

The Senior Wellness Program wasn’t always as successful or wide-reaching as it is now. The program started as a social group with 14 members, including recent retirees, caregivers, and homemakers. Since then, the social group blossomed into a sector of programming for the ESGVJCC that now provides numerous services, allowing older adults to reduce social isolation via bingo, arts and crafts, education in physical and mental wellness, and field trips to historic landmarks and annual festivals. For Ms. Omiya however, the increased membership isn’t what she’s most proud of – “it’s more of the impact I see on them. Every time we introduce an activity, I see them engaged in it. I think, ‘this was worth it.’ For me, it’s the smile on their face, them telling their friends, them having a good time, those are the real impacts on the people that I see.”