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Rose Nakamura, Compassionate Caregiver

The trouble in the island paradise of Hawaii is a collision of demographics and geography. The state boasts laudably high longevity rates, but younger generations of Hawaiians have long been encouraged to further their education and careers on the U.S. mainland. The result? Elderly parents whose children live an ocean away, complicating the challenges of caregiving. Rose Nakamura, 80, saw this pattern often with members of her Buddhist temple in Oahu: not wanting to inconvenience other relatives, the elderly would often stop attending services when they could no longer drive. In 1989 she founded Project Dana, a modest program to connect older members of the community with volunteers who provide companionship, run errands, and generally embody the Buddhist principle after which the project is named. “Dana is about extending compassion and care, without any reward or recognition,” says Nakamura, who for 20 years has done just that. Today, Project Dana serves more than 1,000 kupuna, or elders. Says Nakamura: “Caregiving is everybody’s business.”

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