"We often take for granted the very things that deserve our gratitude."
-- Cynthia Ozick
Not that you asked, but I'll tell you anyway. The 2013 Japanese American Summer Festival is history.
If you happened to drive by the Japanese American Cultural Center on Treat Boulevard, you wouldn't know the center was bustling like Grand Central Station. Well, maybe not quite like Grand Central ... but it was crowded nonetheless.
What folks don't realize is the countless hours that volunteers invest to make the festival a success. Most community organizations can relate to that, I'm sure.
While the Summer Festival is among Concord's oldest ongoing cultural events, the setup and program have undergone little change since the first welcoming taiko drumbeats resounded in the neighborhood marking the opening of Japanese festivities more than half a century ago.
One might add that every ensuing festival has done well. Those responsible for putting on the event have already begun planning for 2014 which partially explains why it does so well year after year.
There are a lot of things to consider when organizing an event of this size. But the key is to make certain there is plenty of help. As long as my wife and I have been participating in Japanese American Center functions, we have not known them to be without volunteer coverage. They always get the job done, and this past festival is a classic example.
Imagine a room the size of a high school gym and row upon row of picnic tables set up so as to seemingly cover the entire floor. That's how the transformed workplace must have looked to the first-timer who volunteered to lend a hand.
The mission was simple enough. Spear pre-cut beef and green peppers on skewers. The goal as I understood it was to prepare a couple thousand, ready-to-cook beef and pepper skewers in two nights. That number didn't faze the old-timers who had been doing it for years, but must have overwhelmed those who were rolling up their sleeves for the first time.
By half past six, most seats around the work tables were filled. I have no idea as to the number of volunteers who showed up but I know it was more than ample. A few folks left early but most worked until 10 o'clock when they began wrapping up for the night.
Although skewering was tedious, it beat prepping and slicing onions. Everyone enjoyed the camaraderie and making small talk with those around them, which lessened the tedium and helped to pass the time.
About a third of the workers took the second night off. A lot of the work had already been completed, and those who returned were able to finish the job and butterfly a few shrimp to boot.
Although nearly half the volunteers were senior citizens -- mostly in their 70s and 80s and even one who just turned 90 -- it was encouraging to see a significant number of youngsters also hard at work. After all, it is hoped they will carry on the tradition established by the elders.
Before the last customers left the grounds on Sunday night, the volunteer cleanup crew was already hard at work picking up trash, disassembling booths, and storing them away for next year. A few hardy souls stayed on into the wee hours of the morning to finish the job.
A lot can also be said about the volunteers who worked behind the counters, and in particular the cooks who slaved over hot grills and vats of boiling oil. But I reckon you get the picture.
So what's the point of this article, you might be wondering? If you really want to know how a successful organization operates, ask the janitor or receptionist.
To all those diligent folks who do their work behind the scene, I doff my cap!
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at email@example.com.