Earthquake relief fund a success

A relief fund established in Japantown to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year has raised more than $4 million from 12,000 donors, including many local individuals and businesses. Already the funds have been used to build two shelters and three day care centers in northern Japan and to help provide medical and mental health care.

“We are absolutely overwhelmed by the response to our fundraising campaign,” said Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in Japantown, which organized the effort. He said that 100 percent of all donations are going to help the recovery in Japan.

Osaki moved quickly to begin organizing a relief effort after the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11. “We really felt it was our responsibility as Japanese Americans to do this,” he said. He had experience to draw on from 1995, when his organization helped raise $600,000 to aid the victims of the Kobe earthquake, which killed more than 6,000 people.

“This disaster is even bigger,” Osaki said. The death toll could reach 20,000, and more than 12,000 others were evacuated after the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown that followed. The Japanese government estimates it will cost $300 billion to repair and rebuild the area.

Osaki plans to keep the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund operating at least through the anniversary of the earthquake in March.

Helping with an uphill battle

Meritus scholar Olushade Unger (center) went to Honduras to participate in a public health project during her spring break this year.

GOOD WORKS | Carol McLaughlin

If anyone knows what it means to keep going in the face of adversity, it’s Olushade Unger. She grew up shuttling between her mother’s home in the Fillmore district and her father’s place in Hunters Point, where violence and gang activities were commonplace. Unger was in high school, planning on attending college, when her musician father became ill with cancer and couldn’t work. Life became an emotional and financial roller coaster.

Her high school grades suffered during the year of her father’s illness. But she worked hard to catch up, graduated with good grades and was accepted at UC San Diego, where the annual bill is nearly $28,000. She got Pell and Cal grants that covered some of the costs, but not nearly enough. And her B average grades weren’t high enough to qualify for the merit scholarships available to top students.

So she applied for a Meritus College Fund scholarship, awarded to students whose GPA is 3.0 to 3.7. Meritus College Fund, which began 15 years ago, is the brainchild of Dr. Henry Safrit, who retired a few years ago from his endocrinology practice at California Pacific Medical Center in the neighborhood.

Teens are making a difference

Sarah Armstrong: People can help.

By Sarah Armstrong

Teenagers have a reputation for sleeping in, getting in trouble and spending a lot of money. But I know we have the potential to do much more.

Now 14 and an eighth grader at Convent of the Sacred Heart Elementary School on Broadway, I have gone to school in Pacific Heights and lived nearby in the Marina for most of my life. I know there is a perception that the youth here live in a bubble and are self-absorbed and unaware of important issues in the world.

I want to help break that stereotype and encourage young people to make a difference. My friends, who are also teenagers, started an organization in Santa Barbara called Hands4Others, and I have recently started a San Francisco chapter. I’ve had a passion for community service since I was very young and once I learned of the devastation that a simple thing like having dirty water could cause, I wanted to help.