Weekday mornings, as the sun rises in Kalihi, seniors congregate at Lanakila Multi Purpose Senior Center to play, learn and serve their community. Dispel the idea of loneliness or aimless activities to pass the time away. Members of Lanakila Center engage in meaningful pursuits, through which they create strong friendships and develop new skills. It is no wonder that this senior center welcomes up to 200 members every day. Follow the schedule of three members:


Generations Magazine - Time to Grow at Lanakila Senior Center - Image 02We Play

8:00 am

Richard Tada parks his car at Catholic Charities Hawaii’s Lanakila Center in Kalihi. He is a volunteer “audio engineer/disc jockey” for the center’s special events. Today, he comes to help coordinate the Japanese Cultural Club’s New Year Celebration. He and his friends move the equipment to the stage area: mixer, speakers, CD and cassette players and microphones… Richard has fun putting them together. The performers arrive early, eager to dance. They hand Richard the tapes and CDs. Here they go, “Testing, one, two, three… testing …”

Richard retired from United Airlines and first visited the center as a caregiver, bring- ing his father-in-law who was a longtime member. Richard provided transportation and a watchful eye for his father-in-law, who was becoming more frail, but still wanted to be with his friends at Lanakila Center. After his father-in-law had passed, Richard kept coming to the center. He was able to focus on his interests.

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Seven ethnic clubs gather regularly at Lanakila. All members of the center are welcome to join any or all clubs. The clubs help to perpetuate the culture and traditions of their respective ethnic group and create opportunities to celebrate birthdays, provide entertain- ment, and go out on excursions, etc. and started sitting in, but not participating in, the Enka (Japanese folk ballads) class.

Finally, Enka class sensei Marian Arakaki told him that he “might as well join” the class since he was there every week. Richard gets pleasure from singing for an audience; in the process, he learned to hold a microphone. Later, he learned to set up and operate an audio system. Now he also volunteers as an assistant treasurer for the Okinawan Nenchosha Club, chairs the center’s Program Committee and was recently recognized as one of 47 veterans in the center’s first Veterans Day Celebration. }}

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First order of the day is always about being nimble. The clubs often start their meetings with exercise or dance. For other ways to stay strong and fit, the center offers a wide variety of activities, including Fusion exercise, Karate, Sahm Bo Dahn, and Stretch and Tone. Dance lovers can join hula, line dance, tap dance, Korean dance, or Okinawan dance. By doing enjoyable activities, members maintain their independence as they age.

9:00 am

The New Year Celebration starts right on time. Richard pays full attention to the program, cues from the master of ceremonies and signals from the performers. The club members enjoy the music, songs and performances. The grand finale of the New Year Celebration is when all the members demonstrate their traditional Japanese dance to Richard’s joyful and festive music — everyone gets into the fun.

11:00 am

After his morning gig, Richard can’t wait to see his mahjong friends. Every week he learns more, even after eight years playing at the center. Mahjong challenges memory, attention, calculation, strategy and decision-making. Richard loves the stakes, but most important of all is joyful fellowship with his peers. With his friends, he plays, jokes, laughs and shares yummy treats. Tracking the tiles keeps the mahjong players’ minds sharp. Friendly competition generates lots of laughter. The time passes so quickly, and nobody loses because the game continues next week! }}

Generations Magazine - Time to Grow at Lanakila Senior Center - Image 04We Learn

8:30 am

Helen Castillon walks from her apart- ment right across the street from Lanakila Center. She goes to the Activity Room and prepares to start the Filipino Cultural Club meeting. Helen never thought she’d ever be in this type of position—leading meetings or planning events for over 100 attendees! Now in her third term as president of the club, she has participated in the Lanakila Center’s annual Leadership Training to learn the roles of officers, communication skills, and how to run meetings and handle conflict. She also knows the importance of succession and encourages the club vice president to shadow her and learn the knowledge and management skills Helen has learned.

Helen initially came to the center as a senior worker via the Honolulu Community Action Program’s Senior Community Service Employment Program. In 2007, when she be-
came age 60, she was able to join Lanakila Center as an official member. In addition to providing clerical support as a SCSEP worker, Helen also received help from Lanakila’s social worker/case manager to apply for senior housing across the street. After a six-year wait, she was finally able to move into Kapuna I, which has become her “home away from home.”

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Keep the mind active by learning new skills. Sensei Takeuchi (right) teaches taisho koto (a miniature form of koto) twice a week. Seniors learn to translate music notes to sounds, keep their fingers nimble, and practice their memory through a cultural form of music.

9:30 am

Catholic Charities Hawai‘i provides presentations on health and wellness for seniors, and Helen greets today’s scheduled speaker before the Filipino club. She has learned about lots of community resources as she is always looking for the best information and resources that can benefit her club members. Today, she has invited a health care provider to discuss diabetes and healthy diets with club members. After the presentation, she gets to enjoy some music, dance with the club members, and sample some ‘ono ethnic potluck dishes, like pancit and lumpia.

10:30 am

After saying goodbye to the speakers and club members, Helen goes to the library annex to join Tai Chi for Health, an evidence-based class for fall prevention. Since 2014, she has practiced the gentle, graceful moves, and learned the purpose of each move. The regular tai chi exercises keep her body balanced to prevent falls that can cause potentially serious injuries. At the end of the 10-week class session, she helps the instruc- tor conduct the outcome evaluation. Through this process, she gathers the data to show how much the Tai Chi for Health has benefited her and her classmates. The class reports fewer trips and falls!

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Health and wellness is a priority. Randy Lau (right) is a certified instructor who leads an evidence-based Tai Chi for Health/Fall Prevention class twice a week. By learning Tai Chi, Lanakila’s seniors, including Helen, gain significant benefits: relax mind and body, strengthen movement control, improve coordination, and reduce the risk of falling. Easing the fear of falling builds their confidence to stay active.

11:30 am

Helen waits at the front of the Lanakila Center for the Catholic Charities Hawai‘i shuttle van. Whenever she has a doctor appointment, she calls the Catholic Charities transportation dispatcher two weeks in advance to request a ride to and from her destination. During the trip, she gets to talk with the other küpuna passengers about what she learned and she listens to the highlights of their day too. Helen continues to look forward to learning, helping others and growing at the senior center. }}

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It is the mind and body that will support the spirit. Yoga is popular with seniors, too! Instructor Hasegawa’s yoga classes fills up quickly during registration. Through yoga, seniors are able to protect their joints, build strength, and improve balance, etc. Rain or shine, as long as the center is open, you will see them practicing twice a week!

Generations Magazine - Time to Grow at Lanakila Senior Center - Image 09We Serve

8:00 am

“Good Morning!” says Diane Kawakami as she greets each küpuna entering the center where she has volunteered as a receptionist for the last five years. She helps her fellow seniors sign up for various activities: Tai Chi, Line Dance, Basic English, ‘Ukulele and more. She listens carefully to their questions and patiently gives them the information they need. She also receives items from donors for Lanakila Center’s “thrift shop” and acts as the salesperson for “shoppers.” At the same time, she answers inquiries on the phone. She is truly a multitasker!

Diane, like Richard, first had contact with Lanakila because her mother and two aunties were longtime members. She would occasionally drop off her mother at the center and had an opportunity to meet some of her mother’s senior friends. After her mother had died, Diane reached retirement and needed to figure out a plan for the rest of her life. One activity she loved was Lanakila Center’s Line Dancing class. From there, a friend at the center recruited her to help out at the reception desk, putting her former telephone operator skills to good use. Now Diane also serves in leadership positions with the Okinawan club, as well as taking minutes for the Program Committee. When asked why she continues her membership at the center, Diane says, “because of the people—the seniors,” whose motivation and enthusiasm for life inspire her.

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Volunteering benefits the volunteer AND the center. Every week, 97-year-old Mrs. Kakazu, a retired nurse, rides on the Catholic Charities Hawai`i van to the center. She has volunteered since 1980, doing blood pressure screening for the members. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, and can’t be detected without being measured. Mrs. Kakazu makes it convenient for the members to find out their blood pressure readings. The volunteer work helps keep her mind active and her contribution helps keep her fellow seniors healthy, too. This is a true win-win situation.

9:00 am

It’s time for Diane to join her Enka singing class. They gather their songbooks and dance outfits for today’s rehearsal. About six times a year, this group performs songs and dances for frail seniors in nursing homes and care homes. They sing in English, Hawaiian and Japanese. They perform traditional Okinawan dance and hula. They are very talented, and their picture ap- peared in Generations Magazine.

10:00 am

Diane and the other Enka students leave for a nursing home down the road. They have performed here many times, and the patients love to have them return. After greeting the patients, they take turns singing as a group and doing solos. Some patients remember the melodies and get passed the microphone so they can do a solo, too. They all sing along as Diane interprets the lyrics with beautiful hula moves. Seated patients join in by following Diane’s hula moves with their hands.

12:00 pm

Back at the center, the Enka class eats lunch together and talks about their experience. Diane shares, “It makes me feel so good when the nursing home residents respond to us, smile back, and try to follow the motions. I can see happiness in their faces. It feels good to serve the community.”

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Being part of a larger purpose is what contribution is all about. While most of the members were enjoying the entertainment at the lanai, five other members help prepare the bentos for lunch. They don’t mind missing out the fun outside because they were having fun serving the others. In the center, you can see sharing, contributing, and giving—everywhere, all the time.

It certainly feels good to know that Catholic Charities Hawai‘i has created a blueprint for successful senior clubs in urban settings. With a small staff and trained volunteers, they provide hope, community and meaningful growth for persons over 60. The members develop lasting friendships with like-minded people who like to have fun, enjoy learning and want to spend their time serving their community. Perhaps it is an extension of “living aloha,” the heritage of plantation camps or school days when we cherished the chums with whom we passed every grade. In Hawai‘i, we are a community that likes to get together, have fun and tackle projects. At Lanakila Center, seniors of all ages are having fun and doing a lot of good work!

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Serve to inspire life. Every year, members step up and advocate for Lanakila Multi Purpose Senior Center and other vital senior services. Here they are on the Legislature’s Opening Day, after meeting and talking with the senators and representatives to promote seniors’ rights and advocate on behalf of those in need.


Our motto at Lanakila Multi Purpose Senior Center, “We Play, We Learn, We Serve,” accurately reflects the intention of the center’s work—encouraging fun with a purpose. This helps seniors remain independent and active in the community and avoids costly and unwant- ed institutionalization for as long as possible.

  • A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that interventions for loneli- ness may result in reduced doctor visits, which may also reduce health care cost.
  • Indicated in Hawai‘i’s 2013 Profile of Success- ful Aging, “Supportive relationships, interactions with the environment, engagement in social activities … all have positive correlations on the well-being of older adults.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advises older adults that “regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age.”
  • A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology indicates that engagement in leisure type activities may reduce the risk of dementia.

In 1969, the state of Hawai‘i established a model senior center in Kalihi. Originally called the Hawaii State Senior Center, the program changed its name to Lanakila Multi Purpose Senior Center in 1975, under the management of Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.

Today, the center at 1640 Lanakila Avenue serves nearly 1,500 seniors age 60 and older. It offers seven ethnic clubs, provides over 30 classes and hosts many special events. Healthy activities for seniors involve exercise classes and health screen- ing. Scheduled seminars to keep our küpuna safe include topics ranging from pedestrian safety to securing personal finances.

Visit Lanakila Multi Purpose Senior Center any weekday. Check out our center’s newsletter at www.catholiccharitieshawaii.org. For more information, call 847-1322. Learn how you can live out the motto, “We Play, We Learn, We Serve.”