GVJCI opens up in pre-pandemic mode

Many programs, events now offered onsite; while some online offerings will continue By Gary Kohatsu

File photo GVJCI REOPENS—In-person classes and events have returned to the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute as of Monday, Feb. 28. The GVJCI has many upcoming onsite programs in March, as well as maintaining some virtual events. Check out the organization’s website for more information and safety guidelines.

As the Covid numbers decline in LA County and health restrictions are relaxed, more businesses are returning to a sense of normalcy. In Gardena, the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute has reopened its facility to onsite activities as of Monday, Feb. 28. “With the continued decrease in COVID-19 cases in LA County, we have decided to lift our temporary suspension of onsite activities,” officials said in a GVJCI email and as reported in the GVN last week. Both participants and visitors are required to observe the JCI health and safety guidelines, as indicated in the email. “Some March programs are being rescheduled, so check our website for the latest updates,” the email blast continued to
report. The JCI’s online programs will reportedly continue as scheduled. Alison Kochiyama, executive director of the GVJCI, told the GVN last week that she and her staff have closely followed the LA County’s pandemic guidelines and the CDC and County Public Health Department’s safety protocol since March 2020, when the lockdowns and restrictions began. Kochiyama said she created a staff COVID team to assess all safety issues to JCI program participants — many of whom are senior citizens — along with members organizations, other staff users and the GVJCI staff. “On Feb. 17, based on the daily decline of COVID case numbers, we decided to reopen our onsite activities (on Feb. 28),” she said. Safety protocols will remain, she added. These protocols include all program participants being fully vaccinated for those programs and activities taking place onsite at the GVJCI facility, she said. Kochiyama and her staff are taking extra precautions in staging events that draw large crowds. “We have also limited indoor large gatherings to smaller numbers, and made our Day of Remembrance event (on Feb 22-26) a virtual one, since traditionally it attracted more than 300 people,” Kochiyama said. The GVJCI was “formally established as the Gardena Valley Japanese Language School in 1967 and in 1968, the name was changed to the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute to incorporate the broader services and function of the organization.” While the pandemic brought about crippling changes to most groups, the JCI found ways to keep its operation healthy. Kochiyama and staff quickly redirected the methods of services by finding “alternative and resourceful ways to continue the work that we do,” she said. Stephanie Mayeda, GVJCI program manager, said the staff learned how to be more resourceful and creative by “pivoting to online events and programming. “Keeping the human connection was and continues to be so important when having programs online, which we have been able to do successfully through our cooking/baking online workshops as well as our youth programs like TANOSHII Fun Camp, to name only a few,” Mayeda said. She added that GVJCI staff also learned important lessons regarding its elderly members. “The early months of the pandemic were especially challenging in trying to help our older adult participants use their computer or smartphone to log onto a Zoom meeting,” she said. “But helping them become comfortable using it was another challenge. From that, we learned that many are just not interested in participating virtually and mainly desire/need in-person classes and programs.” Continuing with online programs has its benefits and will be continued, she said. “Our online ‘Adulting Workshops’ offer young adults educational online workshops on topics such as finance, home buying, and careers in technology, all from the comfort of one’s home,” Mayeda said. “We’re so thrilled to be able to serve people outside the area who may not have been able to easily commute to GVJCI otherwise. We’ve gotten people from Northern California to the east coast and even Japan.” Another program started during the pandemic and will continue is the Senior Food Box Distribution. While the virtues of virtual programming in some cases are here to stay, Kochiyama said that plans for the GVJCI’s major fundraising event of the year will return to pre-pandemic glory. “For the last two years, our GVJCI Matsuri were virtual weeklong events with fun and nostalgic videos of the GVJCI Matsuri favorites,” Kochiyama said. “However, this year, we’re excited to announce that our annual GVJCI Matsuri Fundraiser will return onsite as the 2022 GVJCI Matsuri Grab & Go Bento Fundraiser on Saturday, June 25, 2022.” The return to normalcy will be a step-by-step operation. “Our senior Tomo No Kai classes (resumed on) Monday and we’re working with our member organizations to start up their evening and weekend classes again,” Kochiyama said. “Our Japanese Language School will continue their school year online. We’ll continue some of our public programs online as well, but plan for additional onsite programs.” The reopening of the GVJCI at will be a welcome sight to many, especially the senior members, Kochiyama said. “They miss their friends, the variety of activities they participated in, and they miss just coming out to the GVJCI,” she said. The GVJCI is continually offering new online programming and Kochiyama and staff encourage everyone interested to visit jci-gardena.org/gvjci-upcomingevents to stay current with the organization’s latest information, she said. Also follow the group on Instagram (@gardenavalleyjci) and Facebook (facebook.com/GVJCI). The GVJCI is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization located at 1964 W. 162nd St., Gardena, Calif. 90247; office hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 310-324-6611. Call the GVJCI office at 310-324-6611.