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Small acts. Big hearts. A Family Service Day at Shinnyo-en’s Head Temple

Contributed in part by Jenny Friedman


On July 13, 2013, Shinnyo-en Foundation held a Family Service Day in partnership with Minneapolis-based Doing Good Together for members of the Shinnyo-en Head Temple in Redwood City, California. While it was a first for the Head Temple, this service day was the fourth in a series of Family Service Events held at Shinnyo-en’s Chicago temple, Manhattan Training Center in New York, and Lexington Montessori School in Boston. As in the past, the Foundation hoped to provide an opportunity for temple and community members to address the needs of their neighbors through small, hands-on acts of service that were simple and enjoyable for the entire family. About 100 people gathered and worked with selfless focus to complete seven different projects, all in the space of a remarkably productive two hours. Temple members arrived with their children, extended families and friends in tow, and the Foundation was thrilled to welcome a few high school and college students from the community who were eager to get started.

Shinnyo-BustsThe Family Service Day was scheduled on the second from the last day of the Shinjo Ito Family Bust visitation in order to best put the teaching of Shinnyo-en into practice. These original busts of the Shinnyo-en Buddhism founders and two of their children are extremely important to practitioners in order to personally experience Shinnyo, which is defined as the essential nature of reality.  In art, the qualities and attributes of Shinnyo are often visually represented in 3-D, like these busts. The Shinnyo busts are used to help practitioners concentrate on the enlightened beings and the qualities of the enlightened minds they manifested. It is said that through practice and meditation, one can realize that the qualities of the enlightened minds are actually present in practitioners own minds and hearts. It was a very special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have the busts at the USA Head Temple and with the visitation coming to an end, there were a number of visitors coming in and out, many of whom casually joined in the family service day activities. Many hands make light work!

DSC_9163After brief introductions and explanations about the Foundation’s role and the history of service at Shinnyo-en, participants weaved in and out of the rooms and across the hallways to different stations, chatting with friends, old and new. The young ones gathered around the colorful paints and decorated 50 reusable bags for clients of Samaritan House, a nonprofit organization which annually provides social services to 12,000 low-income residents of San Mateo County. Susan Kavet, the Annual Giving Manager at Samaritan House acknowledged how important a simple sturdy bag is for someone who doesn’t have a lot. She shared a story about a woman who received a bag and mentioned how nice it was to now be able to hold and carry everything she owned.

DSC_0054Even though it was hot and sunny outside, teams of families and friends huddled around warm fleece material and made over 20 blankets for Sacred Heart Community Service, located in San Jose. The blankets were later used for Sacred Heart’s “Survival Sacks” which are intended to last three months for the homeless adults they are distributed to. One might think of Silicon Valley as the hub of rich, high-tech employees and companies, but according to the California Economic Summit, the reality is that 24% of Silicon Valley’s population lives in poverty. Sacred Heart is working to empower these families to improve their lives while providing essential services.

Teens breezed through the packing of 100 nutritional goodie bags for Peninsula Volunteers, an organization that looks out for the welfare of seniors in San Mateo County through programs like Meals on Wheels. While the youth moved on to other stations, a lively group of ladies found great joy in crafting tissue paper flowers to brighten Peninsula Volunteers’ senior living homes.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the room …

  • an assembly line formed and 150 kits were quickly filled with necessities such as shampoo and toothpaste for Home & Hope, an organization that provides shelter and support for families in San Mateo County;
  • artists in the group created greeting cards for children with life-threatening illnesses, in cooperation with Send Kids the World;
  • and a few quietly wrote notes to attach to small gifts for Ecumenical Hunger Program in Palo Alto in order to promote its programs which provide emergency food, clothing and household essentials to families in need.

Projects stretched even beyond the Bay Area to Naivasha, Kenya as many participants enjoyed stringing together beaded friendship bracelets to send to Light of Hope Kenya, an all-girls school and orphanage.

When all the projects were completed, everyone gathered for a light lunch. Families were handed a “giving jar” for their families to take home. They were encouraged to keep the giving spirit alive by taking the jar and gradually gathering up loose change. Once the jar fills, the hope is that each family will decide on a cause that is meaningful to them to support. We have no doubt that those jars are surely filling up because in a display of their generosity during that very day, participants collected their loose change for the victims in their Redwood City community who had just lost everything to a large apartment fire a week prior. The money collected was matched by the Foundation and given to the American Red Cross, earmarked for those affected.

One may never know how far his or her small act of kindness will ripple through the community, but the efforts of all who gave up a small portion of their weekend will surely be felt in the Bay Area and beyond.