Finding the Reason for Decreasing Participation

For more than 58 years, Pasadena Buddhist Temple has been a place not only for practitioners of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, but also a gathering place for the local Japanese American community and senior groups to participate in cultural, social, and other events.

Yet over the years, the temple began to notice a decrease in participation. Board member Shelley Yamane Shinmoto recalls, “It was not even the social events. Our Nisei parents were having trouble coming to temple services. We have a small congregation, but more seniors started to not attend.”

When they asked their 150-member congregation why some members had not been attending, they found that there were serious deterrents that prevented people from returning to the temple.

“The AC was spotty throughout the temple, and nonexistent in the gym. It was uncomfortable for everyone,” says Shelley. “The second deterrent was the restrooms. Before, the stalls and the whole area were just poorly designed and narrow.”

Old Restroom without space for wheelchairs and walkers
Neither a wheelchair nor a walker can fit through the narrow bathroom

The temple Board realized the current bathroom did not allow wheelchairs to fit in the stalls, which was not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. Those who needed assistance struggled and spent a lot of time just using the restroom. Many Nisei were self-conscious of potential accidents but rather than complain, they decided not to come, even if they had their son or daughter to help them.

Addressing the Problem for the Future

The temple knew this was an important issue to address. “As we look at the future of the temple and the role it plays, it has become a lot more evident that we need[ed] to renovate,” adds Shelley. “Because we have this huge facility, it’s important as a community center that we have the facilities set up so that we can have more programs.”

In recent years, the temple began collaborating with local churches and groups for joint events such as the First Presbyterian Church Altadena and the Pasadena Nikkei Seniors. The large temple facility, with its spacious parking and older adult friendly slopes, is often a gathering place for many local organizations to host major events, and they wanted to continue being that kind of location.

It was then that the temple found out about the Keiro Grants Program. They expected to finish their project quickly, but found many obstacles over the course of a year before finally finishing in March 2018.

Restroom door and Keiro plaque

The Renovation Process

The first step was to solicit bids and select an architect, for which they had several options through Keiro and other community referrals. Within a month, they found an architect who was very accommodating to the temple’s specific needs, and the design was submitted to the city and approved without any edits. 

The biggest challenge was finding a general contractor on the organization’s limited budget – a process that took about six months. Shelley’s husband Scott says, “Normally the general contractor oversees everything but they would have subcontractors, and costs would build up.” They found a solution to this by having Scott take on the role of supervising the subcontractors. They decided to have one lead subcontractor, with referrals to other subcontractors for plumbing, partitions for the stalls, and some of the appliances. By October 2017, they obtained all the building, electrical, plumbing and mechanical permits from the city. Construction began the following month.

Among some of the new features at the temple are automated water faucets and auto flush toilets in the renovated restrooms. Shelley recalls, “I initially thought ‘we don’t need that, that would be expensive,’ but I didn’t realize it’s really because the older people lose balance [trying] to flush the toilet.” The automated features are helpful for those in wheelchairs who cannot stand up to turn the water on.

Making Life Transitions Easier for Everybody

 “What you do notice is how quickly we become so fragile,” says Shelley, noting that the renovation was beneficial for herself and her peers as well. “It’s interesting that we are old and we joke about it but seriously, it’s all of us, we are all aging; right now is when you start to feel the effects of aging, so any kind of support we can do to make life transition easier for everybody, would be helpful.”

And now that the renovations are complete, the temple’s members are excited to use the facility for more activities in the future.