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2012 Lighting Our Way Honoree: Shimeji Kanazawa

September 25, 2012

In celebration of our annual Lighting Our Way banquet, we will be chronicling this year’s recipients throughout the week. Today’s profile focuses on Shimeji Kanazawa, founder of Project Dana.

Known by many as the “Florence Nightingale of Hawaii,” Shimeji Kanazawa has made it her life’s work to aid those in need of assistance and to lift the spirits of those she comes across.

“She’s really nice and a really sweet lady,” said PBA senior Shawn Quinn, who interviewed Kanazawa as part of the PeaceBridge project. “Someone told her earlier on in life that she had a ‘Red Cross heart’ and you can definitely see that in her. She’s done a lot of good things.”

Interestingly enough, Kanazawa was recognized by the American Red Cross for her work in World War II as the executive secretary to the Swedish Honorary Vice Consul. At a time when internment was tearing families apart, Kanazawa provided a much-needed service by acting as a liaison between the local Japanese civilian population and the United States military.

After the war, Kanazawa, who originally hails from Kamuela, began what would become a lifelong mission of philanthropy. She worked with the Commission on Children and Youth, which helped pave the way for Hawaii’s family court system. She then focused on helping the elderly and, thanks to her service on numerous boards and commissions, was appointed by three presidents - Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton - to the National Advisory Committee on Aging.

One of Kanazawa’s most significant endeavors came in 1989, when she founded Project Dana, an interfaith volunteer program that assists elderly and disabled individuals as well as family caregivers. Headquartered in Moiliili, Project Dana boasts a range of offerings, from providing transportation to coordinating friendly visits to organizing fall-prevention services.

As Kanazawa has grown older, her benevolent deeds have not slowed down. She was chairperson of Hawaii’s White House Conference on Aging, the Planned Giving for Campaign 2000, and the Hawaii Summit 2011 Project. Her selflessness has resulted in a number of awards and acknowledgments, such as the Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Hawaii and the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation Award.

In just one short afternoon with Kanazawa, Quinn said that he learned a valuable lesson - that giving to others is a reward that can last a lifetime.  

“It pays to give back,” Quinn said. “She’s given all her life and now she’s lived a full existence. She’s really happy.” 

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