Contributed by Jennifer Kimiko Uchikawa, Chicago Youth Association
On February 27, 2021, thanks to the support of local community members together with Shinnyo- en Foundation, we were able to host a Virtual One Heart Family Service Event. Since 2012 in collaboration with local organization members, we had gathered annually at Shinnyo-en Chicago Temple to make items to contribute to the organizations in need. Due to the current pandemic, group gatherings have become limited or postponed. At first, we had thought volunteer events, such as this event, might have to wait until the pandemic was over. However, thanks to the guidance received from Her Holiness Keishu Shinso, which states, “Look positively towards the future and begin anew with practices grounded in altruism,” this event began to take root. Through the support from Shinnyo-en Foundation and local community leaders, we were able to overcome physical barriers through Zoom. Over 50 representatives, including the speakers from the Elk Grove Village’s Police Department, the Public Library, the Township Food Pantry, the Elk Grove Village Fire Department, and the Community Character Coalition, and the participants from the Elk Grove High School, the Girl Scouts, the District 59 Education Foundation, and the Shinnyo-en Chicago Temple members all gathered together for this virtual event. The guest speakers from the Elk Grove Village community spoke about their organizations and how they serve our Chicago Temple community. One of the speakers, the Fire Chief Richard Mikel, encouraged us to do what only we could do and bring out our uniqueness. Listening to the local speakers, I was inspired by their positive impacts and endeavors.
After the presentations, all of us were divided into breakout rooms to begin our remote project making. Some examples of projects included making handmade bookmarks for the library and cards for the organizations of choice such as nursing homes, and decorating awards for the heroes of our local communities, such as first responders and essential workers. In the breakout rooms we were encouraged to connect to each other, share what brought us to this event, and share our knowledge as well as various experiences in our local communities. Our groups consisted of diverse backgrounds from senior adults to young children. I enjoyed hearing the stories from the group members about how they had volunteered locally this past year despite the challenges from the pandemic. This allowed me to gain new ideas for upcoming events. I also felt a great sense of connection with the community. While the participants shared their experiences, we continued to work on projects, coloring pictures or drawing designs for cards.
After our project making was concluded in the breakout rooms, we gathered together for a relaxing Yoga exercise. Our instructor, who is a certified instructor volunteer from the Shinnyo-en Chicago Temple, guided us on various poses to stretch and breathe while sitting on a chair. This also allowed us to learn how to relieve tension from the recent increase of screen time that many of the participants have been experiencing with remote work and schooling!
The event came to a close after a share-out of our reflections from the day. This gathering had brought people together from various backgrounds and parts of the community. Participants expressed that a virtual family service was difficult to imagine at first but that it had led to a joyful experience!
With the ongoing pandemic and the many challenges in society, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and often hopeless. However, this gathering allowed us to take one positive step forward with the common goal – our wish to express gratitude to those around us and make a positive impact in our communities. I am so grateful to all participants and speakers who made this event possible and personally memorable to me. Through this virtual event, I learned that there is always a possibility for change even in the midst of the difficulties. I look forward to the positive ripples that we can continue to make together.
Please see below several more photos of unique bookmarks that the participants made and kindly shared with us.