On a warm Wednesday afternoon, tucked away in an industrial part of Long Beach, faint murmurings can be heard from outside the open doors of the Long Beach Japanese Cultural Center (LBJCC). Inside the long, wood-paneled social hall, 20 older adults sit together talking while they wait for lunch to be served. The participants come from all over Long Beach and the surrounding areas.
Volunteers and workers begin to bring out bento and fresh fruit. The conversation is light, but everyone at the table knows each other already. An older man walks through the doors midway through lunch and those who notice greet him with excitement. The members of this group have become a tight-knit family. Keiko Shibata, the coordinator of LBJCC’s Senior Luncheon, said of the participants, “Some have become more outgoing and more willing to participate. The main thing I’m happy about is that they want to come back. They enjoy themselves.”
Following lunch, participation will be important for the next portion of the afternoon. Keiko takes a seat at the front of the social hall and begins to instruct the participants in light physical activity. Taking part in stretches to increase mobility and various calisthenics to stay limber and retain strength, the seniors follow Keiko’s direction.
After exercise, there are a variety of different activities that help to engage the older adults mentally, occupationally, and therapeutically. Some days, the group will play cards or enjoy adult coloring books or take part in a group Bingo game. Arts and crafts are the most popular among the program’s participants. In an earlier week, the participants enjoyed a workshop, led by volunteer instructor Donna Matoi that taught participants to make Zentangle art. While they all received the same instruction, each participant’s Zentangle drawing looked different and wass therapeutic as a form of self-expression. This week, the LBJCC provided composition books for the participants to decorate. Some planned to use them to take notes during doctors’ appointments and also as a space to create art while passing time in the waiting rooms.
Participant Joy Tanigawa said, “My favorite thing about coming here on Wednesdays is that it’s pleasant with welcoming company. If I wasn’t able to come here, I would probably stay at home.” Outside of this group, Joy doesn’t have many relatives that still come to visit her. When asked if she had made any friends at the program, she joked, “Mainly enemies. But they’re all friendly.”
Another one of the older adults, Kiyomi Nakano explained why she attends the Senior Luncheons at the LBJCC. “[I come] to socialize and enjoy everyone’s company. I enjoy various things here: arts and crafts, exercise, and the lunch is nice. Sometimes I have one nephew that comes to visit, but mostly I stay at home.”
LBJCC’s senior program provides more than just lunch and activities – it gives the attendees an opportunity to socialize and be together with friends. Keiko commented that companionship is one of the greatest needs facing their population: “We know they’re not shut-ins, but sometimes they have no transportation. We discourage people coming in and taking food out. We’re not a take-out restaurant. We want everyone to stay and have a good time.”
Helping to reduce social isolation is one of the LBJCC’s greatest goals for the Senior Luncheon program. Keiko is optimistic about achieving this goal as she said, “The main thing I’m happy about is that they want to come back. They enjoy themselves. Sometimes we’ll have an event scheduled in the social hall after this event, and the seniors, they don’t want to leave! They enjoy their time here.”