LOS ANGELES - The spirit of charity is a measure of a person as well as that of the health of a community. It also builds the vitality of a society. Giving to support non-profit institutions, or to help those in need, or to insure the future of our youth can, not only make communities better, it can, at the same time, be an enjoyable activity. Last month was, in so many ways, an enjoyably community building time.
The first event on my calendar was a Star Trek convention in St. Louis, Missouri, called Archon 28. I flew into St. Louis at night and was picked up by Mary Stadter. I quickly discovered that she is a delightful conversationalist and we began chatting about everything on this planet as she drove me to the convention hotel. As we chitchatted on, I saw looming up in the night sky, that magnificent landmark of St. Louis, the Gateway Arch glowing elegantly on the bank of the Mississippi River. Then she turned left onto a bridge and began crossing the river. Now, I think I know my geography and I know that the other bank of the Mississippi is the state of Illinois. We crossed the bridge and I saw a political campaign sign that read, "Barak Obama for U.S. Senate." I know my politics and I knew that Obama was running in the state of Illinois. However, I had been told that the convention was to be in St. Louis, Missouri. "Where was this charming woman taking me? This chatty driver hasn't kidnapped me, has she?" I thought. I asked somewhat apprehensively, "Isn't the convention supposed to be in St. Louis?" She then 'fessed up, "The con is actually in Collinsville, Illinois. But, most people don't know Collinsville so we just said St. Louis." I was relieved. This amiable Mary was not a kidnapper. However, I had been conned into going to a con in a mid-sized town in Illinois called Collinsville. It was to be a wonderfully serendipitous con.
This unexpected convention in Collinsville, Archon 28, was as much fun as I had expected but it concluded on a most unexpectedly charitable note. An organized fan group known as IFT, or the International Federation of Trekkers, was there in full force. They have been great supporters over the years. They had spearheaded the campaign to persuade Paramount to do a new series titled, "Star Trek: Excelsior" with Captain Sulu. They have also had as one of their prime missions, to support good causes with fund raising efforts. At my closing talk at the convention, the members of IFT brought out and displayed an array of wonderful Star Trek collectibles and other merchandise. These were to be auctioned off with the proceeds to go to the Japanese American National Museum, an institution near and dear to my heart. I had participated in establishing this museum and the Starfleet uniform that I wore as Captain Sulu in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" is on display there. I was stunned and delighted - the funds raised were to be contributed to one of my favorite charities! As I played the part of the auctioneer, lively bidding competitions ensued. A handsome leather jacket, a much-coveted object, sparked an especially spirited bidding contest and brought the highest price. All together, over $500 was raised to benefit the Japanese American National Museum! My heartfelt thanks and appreciation go to the Star Trek fans and members of IFT for their thoughtfulness and generosity.
In the middle of the month, I flew to Hollywood, Florida, for a fund-raising dinner for the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County. The generous people of Ft. Lauderdale and other surrounding areas had come together to support the good work that the Boys and Girls Clubs were doing with the young people of the community. They were gathering for more than charity, it was to insure the health and well being of their community today and for the future. At the same time, they were having a grand time. The food was delicious, the drinks flowed, and laughter filled the air. Of course, many were long time Star Trek fans. I regaled them with anecdotes from my days from the filming of both the television and movie series. It was wonderful fun and we raised over $200,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County!
The month closed with an event that was closest to home - no travel required on this one. The event was back in Los Angeles and it had family involvement. It was the annual Hawaiian Luau for Japanese American senior citizens. Back in the '70s, my father, together with others, had founded a daily hot-meal program for elderly Japanese Americans of limited means living in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles. My mother had been a long time volunteer serving lunch at this program for the needy. These seniors had worked hard all their lives but because of linguistic, cultural, and other limitations - the most damaging having been their internment during World War II - were of limited means. Some were not getting proper nutrition. Working with the County of Los Angeles, my father had spearheaded a program of providing hot, nutritious, culturally attuned meals for these seniors. The program is called, Koreisha Chushoku-kai directed by the energetic Emi Yamaki. The program has been a great success but due to cutbacks in governmental support, private fund-raising efforts became an important factor in sustaining the project. I have been a long-time annual contributor continuing my parents' good work. The Luau was the annual celebration for all those people who support the program. Everyone was in Hawaiian shirts or mumu gowns. This was a luau. When we arrived, we were all garlanded with flowery leis and warm embraces. The food served was what is called "mixed plate" in Hawaii - a little bit Japanese, a little bit Chinese, a little bit Polynesian and a good mix of others - just like in Hawaii. Similarly, the entertainment was multi-cultural with mostly lovely hula dancers. It was a wonderful, relaxing Hawaiian afternoon without having to fight the airport hassle and jet lag. This was the best kind of transport. I beamed throughout the afternoon - we were enjoying a vicarious Hawaiian luau and supporting a worthy program, to boot. Charity can be transporting good fun.