September 11, 2008

Delegation Pleased With Sister City’s Volunteerism


By Cindy Butler Focke


Princess Anne

A recent Virginia Beach delegation to Miyazaki, Japan, returned home impressed by that city's use of volunteerism.

Before Miyazaki became Virginia Beach's sister city in 1992, the word "volunteer" was unfamiliar to its citizens.

Just 16 years later, about 10,000 of the residents help their community, situated on the eastern coast of the island of Kyushu on the Pacific Ocean, resembling Virginia Beach in population and beach resort atmosphere.

Mary Russo , 82, director for the Beach's Office of Volunteer Resources, is proud of the department she has run on a volunteer basis for the past 30 years. Formerly called the Virginia Beach Volunteer Council, it had just a few hundred volunteers.

"We have 20,000 volunteers here now," said the Atlantic Shores resident. "It's wonderful. A foreign country recognizes the value in what we're doing."

Russo was one of five city representatives who returned July 30 from a week of meetings, including participation in an International Volunteerism Symposium in Miyazaki. The trip was funded by the Japanese Education Cultural Center.

Other participants were City Councilman Jim Wood , Media and Communications Coordinator Linda Minner , Mary Cole from Parks and Recreation and , City Clerk Ruth Fraser , sister cities' liaison.

"We were treated royally; a welcome banner, flowers," said Russo, of the warm airport welcome.

Russo, one of the conference's keynote speakers, said the greeting signified the Japanese citizens' respect for the partnership and how it has enhanced their city.

Since the sister cities' designation was made , delegations from each city have visited each other for international exchanges in areas including culture, the arts, welfare and education. The recent delegates to Japan explored eco-tourism, technical support programs, volunteerism and organizational networking efforts.

The sister cities program provides an "exchange of cultural, educational and economic advantages for both cities," Fraser said, noting that during one visit here, Mayor Shigemitsu Tsumura was so impressed with Virginia Beach's use of volunteers, he "asked if we were willing to share."

The Japanese participants' visits to Virginia Beach have included observation in areas such as the Meals on Wheels program, Fire, Emergency Medical Systems, Parks and Recreation and Libraries.

Wood, City Council's liaison to Russo's department, said he told the Miyazaki conference attendees, "There's not a single department in your city that couldn't use volunteers."

He was part of a 1999 delegation to a Miyazaki and said he saw an increase in the use of volunteers during this trip.

"The public library has seven volunteers for every paid staff member. Volunteerism is not an alien concept anymore," Wood said.

Fraser said Tsumura has made volunteerism a top priority in his city, which has a volunteer council.

While in Miyazki, the Beach delegation visited "Virginia Beach Square," a park dedicated to volunteerism and featuring a 30-foot replica of the old Cape Henry Lighthouse, a sand dune and the Virginia Beach city seal.

For details on becoming a city of Virginia Beach volunteer, visit; under "residents," click on "volunteer opportunities" or call 385-4722 .

Cindy Butler Focke, [email protected]

Originally published by BY CINDY BUTLER FOCKE.

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