Monday, December 14, 1998

Name: Phyllis Seto
Age: 51
Education: Baldwin High School
Position: Part-time travel agency office worker
Hobbies: Travel

'Great at motivating'

Phyllis Seto is a volunteer who knows how to get things done.

"She's always looking for ideas to better serve people," said Maile Kanemaru, branch executive of the Windward YMCA. "She's great at motivating people. She knows how to bring people to the table and make things happen."

That's why it comes as no surprise to Kanemaru that Seto is the first person from Hawaii -- and the first woman in the country -- to win the YMCA-related Henry Grimes Award. The winner is chosen from among 10 regional directors of the Y's Men Club, which raises funds for the YMCA and performs community services.

Seto served as the Hawaii regional director, overseeing nine clubs, for the 1997-1998 term. The award was established in honor of Henry Grimes, the first official secretary for the Y's Men International.

She remains a volunteer with the club and, although the position offers no monetary compensation, Seto said she takes it seriously, "like being the president of a company."

"You need to work with everybody, just like all the departments in a company, give them the support they need, attend all the meetings, or as much as you can, find out what they need," she said.

It's a time-consuming job, but luckily she's married to a man who shares the same volunteer spirit, Seto said.

"It's a good thing he's very understanding, or else it would have been a problem," Seto said.

In fact, her husband, Ray, is an old hand at volunteering for the club. In 1993 he became the first person from Hawaii to serve as U.S. area president of the Y's Men Club.

Seto said she learned early from her mother to do good for others. At 78, Seto's mother lives in a home for seniors on Maui, and every day she looks forward to helping the other residents who are less able to do for themselves, Seto said.

"I get satisfaction from helping other people. Everybody needs help sometime in their life. Someday I will need help, and I hope somebody will help me," she said.

Her kindness is a big plus, but Seto is more than just another well-intentioned volunteer, according to people who have worked with her.

"It's her dedication," said Fred Livingston, current regional director. "I've seen nothing like it. When she starts to work on something, she just goes."

"She's extremely efficient," said Elvira Goldenberg, president of the Kaimuki-Waialae Y's Men Club. "It may be a volunteer job, but she's dedicated as if she's on the job, a paid job."

It is difficult to get Seto to say anything good about herself, but she does admit that she has one trait particularly valued in volunteer organizations, which often are short on funds.

"I guess you can say I am tight with the money," Seto said, admitting she knows how to make the money last.

By Suzanne Tswei, Star-Bulletin

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