Spotlight on Alumni: Rose Nakamura’s Selfless Service Attracts National Honor

Rose Nakamura

After 25 years of devoted service as a program officer and participant services officer assisting East-West Center’s international students, Rose Nakamura didn’t slow down.  Her retirement from the Center in 1989 opened up new avenues of service.  As Hawaii’s senior population continues to grow and many are isolated, living far away from family on the U.S. mainland, Nakamura saw a need in the community to create a program that provides volunteer assistance to homebound frail elderly and disabled persons to ensure their independence and dignity.

With 55 volunteers serving just 110 elderly people at the time, she co-founded Project Dana (the Sanskrit word for “selfless giving”), starting as a small faith-in-action operation based out of Mo‘ili‘ili Hongwanji Mission. Today, Project Dana has grown into a statewide interfaith coalition of more than 30 churches with over 750 volunteers assisting thousands of senior citizens each year. “ Dana is about extending compassion and care, without any reward or recognition,” said Nakamura in an AARP article . “Caregiving is everybody’s business.”

Rose Nakamura (third from right) with the other 2009 Inspire Award honorees at the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Nakamura has never sought recognition, yet it found her. She was given the prestigious East-West Center Baron Goto Award for outstanding achievement in 1983 and the Outstanding Service Award in 1993 from the East-West Center Association-Hawaii Chapter. She was named a Living Treasure of Hawai‘i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai‘i and was the recipient of the very first National Rosalynn Carter Caregiving Award. More recently, she was recognized for her non-profit leadership and received the 2007 Ho‘okele Award from The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.  In addition, this year after being one of the first recipients of the Honolulu Forever Young awards, which honors dynamic servant-leaders, she now joins the company of actress Glenn Close and composer Quincy Jones in receiving a national 2009 Inspire Award from AARP – The Magazine (the world’s largest-circulation magazine with 34 million readers).  She was recognized as a “Compassionate Caregiver” and was presented with the Inspire Award in Washington, D.C., on December 8. The Inspire Awards pay tribute to 10 extraordinary people who inspire others to action through their innovative thinking, passion and perseverance. “The more involved in the project I am, the greater the need (I see),” Nakamura stated in a Honolulu Star Bulletin interview .   “I want to inspire others, especially my staff.”

At 80, even while serving full-time as a volunteer executive director for Project Dana , Nakamura has continued to give of her time and energy to support the work of the Center. She served on the 1970's EWC alumni endowment committee, which raised $182,000 for the Center’s student scholarship programs, and also as a panelist at the EWCA 70’s alumni conference. “My many years at the East-West Center had a great impact on my being able to run Project Dana ,” Nakamura pointed out. “I learned program administration at the Center and in particular how to work with an international and cross-cultural community. . . Developing people to people relations is my passion, whether they are younger or older.”  Her example of selfless giving and dedication to improving our community and bringing people of all backgrounds together in service to humanity truly embodies the spirit of the East-West Center. “There’s always a way to solve problems and work with people,” Nakamura reflected. “So positive change can take place.”

Click here to view a KHNL NBC news 8 video segment and Web article featuring Rose Nakamura sharing about her work with Project Dana after having received the Honolulu Forever Young Award.

Click here to view a KGMB News 9 interview with Nakamura about her work with Project Dana .

To view Nakamura’s PowerPoint presentation on Project Dana from the 2006 conference on Active Aging in Asia Pacific: Showcasing Best Practices held at the EWC Imin Conference Center, click here .