Palama, Lanakila volunteer set to meet President Bush today
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Nuuanu resident Caroline Tom says it is "unbelievable" that she will get a national award from President Bush today, recognizing her for her time helping senior citizens.
The 78-year-old will receive the president's Volunteer Service Award for her outstanding volunteer work at Palama Settlement and the Lanakila Multipurpose Senior Center. Bush is scheduled to give her the award during a brief stopover today at Hickam Air Force Base.
Several times a week, Tom teaches country line dancing at Palama and volunteers as a host at Lanakila, where she has logged 10,000 hours of service.
She said she volunteers because it gives her a sense of self-satisfaction and helps her "feel good."
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Caroline Tom is scheduled to meet President Bush today to receive the Volunteer Service Award for her work at the Lanakila Multipurpose Senior Center and Palama Settlement.
"I'm just like chicken-skin," Tom, 78, said yesterday. "Unbelievable -- at my age and still to be able to get an award like this."
"On behalf of all the volunteers, I'm accepting this award, and I'm going to share it with my friends at Palama and Lanakila," Tom said.
During the president's brief stopover at Hickam Air Force Base, Bush will honor Tom with the award for her outstanding volunteer service. Since 2002, Bush has met with more than 600 local volunteers as he traveled throughout the country, according to the White House.
Tom, a retired state clerical worker, began volunteering 10 years ago at the Lanakila center, operated by Catholic Charities of Hawaii. She is also a volunteer country line-dance instructor for seniors at Palama Settlement.
After retiring in the early 1990s, Tom went to the Lanakila center to keep busy and "naturally" began volunteering. She has logged about 10,000 volunteer hours at the center.
"I have more time than money, so I give up my time," she said.
She walks about a mile and a half at least twice a week from her Nuuanu residence to Lanakila, where she works at the front desk, greeting seniors and filling in where she is needed. She teaches line dancing there, too.
"She has made a great difference in the lives of others to help promote independent living for seniors," said Jerry Rauckhorst, Catholic Charities Hawaii president and chief executive officer.
At the center, Tom has served as an interpreter with the Chinese Cultural Club; represented the Medicare Beneficiary Advisory Committee, telling seniors about changes in the Medicare program; and helped the Catholic Charities Transportation Unit, accompanying senior citizens as they do their shopping.
Recently, Tom helped distribute food to low-income seniors and made phone calls to greet senior citizens too weak or ill to come into the center.
"I'm a jack-of-all-trades, master of none," Tom said. "When I'm called upon to do something, and if I'm available, I just put in some time."
At Palama Settlement, Tom has taught line dancing for about 10 years, said Vincent Debina, Palama's recreation division director. About 80 to 100 seniors attend the class, which is held three days a week.
"She's a very warm person, and she loves to talk story," he said. "She loves to give advice that can help them in life."
It is not the first time Tom has been recognized for her volunteer service. In April, Mayor Mufi Hannemann awarded her the 2007 Outstanding Female Volunteer award for the city Senior Recognition Program. Last year, Lanakila center named Tom its Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.