Volunteer Spotlight: Yuto Tobin-Miyaji

Yuto Tobin-Miyaji (left) with fellow AFA on Campus members volunteering at the Yesteryears site in Endwell, N.Y. Sept. 17, 2018

By Mary Anna Sedlacek

Yuto Tobin-Miyaji, a senior biological chemistry major who has recently begun the rigorous process of applying to medical school, still manages to find time to volunteer and be involved in the community. Tobin-Miyaji is currently the president of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) on Campus at Binghamton University, although he has been involved with the organization for much of his undergraduate career.

AFA on Campus is an official student chapter of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Its goals as an organization are to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease, support those who have been affected by the disease, fundraise for the organization and, most importantly, volunteer in the community. According to Tobin-Miyaji, the main mission of Binghamton University's chapter of the AFA has been to help the community — namely individuals with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers. Tobin-Miyaji and other students who are involved with AFA on Campus do so by volunteering at local nursing homes and social adult day programs. Tobin-Miyaji has also recently expanded volunteer opportunities for students by getting involved with the Memory Maker Project, an art therapy program for people living with memory loss and their caregivers.

Tobin-Miyaji believes that "it is really good for the soul to volunteer," and greatly enjoys the time he spends getting to know the community members he meets through the programs AFA on Campus is involved with. One such program is the Yesteryears social adult day program run by the Broome County Office for Aging. The program's coordinator, Shellie Spinelli, says, "Yesteryears provides structured activities in a supervised setting. We service seniors 60+ who are frail/memory impaired or socially isolated. Social adult day programs provide our participants with the opportunity to maintain social connections, therefore improving their quality of life." Additionally, she says that the physical and mental wellness of participants are improved by gross motor skill games and cognitive activities. Spinelli noted that Tobin-Miyaji began volunteering with the Yesteryears program last June and connected them with AFA on Campus, which "has been a wonderful connection" for their program.

Through the help of student volunteers like Tobin-Miyaji, the Yesteryears program has expanded to offer a monthly Saturday program for its participants. After taking a brief REST (Respite Education and Support Tools) Companion training course, Tobin-Miyaji and other AFA on Campus members have provided 135 hours of service in the Yesteryears' Saturday program since its development last fall. Tobin-Miyaji has enjoyed taking part in what Spinelli describes as a chance for caregivers to have a much needed break and for participants to have a meaningful social experience.

Initially learning about the club as a sophomore through the daily B-Engaged calendar email, Tobin-Miyaji read of AFA on Campus's Light the World event, in which the organization would light the Bartle Library tower teal for Alzheimer's awareness. Prompted to go by the promise of free apple cider, he found the group to be energetic and passionate. The following semester, when a family member was diagnosed with dementia, Tobin-Miyaji found himself looking for support and a group where he belonged, and attended AFA on Campus's general interest meeting. With no intention of becoming heavily involved in the club, let alone eventually becoming the president, he found the volunteer experiences the club offered too rewarding not to continue. "Every time I walk into a Yesteryears site, they [the participants] all know my name even though a lot of them have Alzheimer's or some sort of dementia, and that makes me really happy that they remember and appreciate [that I'm there]."

Tobin-Miyaji especially enjoys the conversations he gets to have with the participants about their lives, and hearing their stories is the reason he continues to volunteer. Volunteering with the Yesteryears program and other local nursing homes has also helped him become more patient and learn about the elderly population and people with memory impairment, which he thinks can be beneficial as he prepares for medical school.

Tobin-Miyaji stressed that new members are always welcome at AFA on Campus, and that anyone looking for support or to get involved should reach out. "If people want to get involved, I think it would be best to come to one GBM (general body meeting), even if they haven't been to any of the meetings before. We're all [open to having] any new members [join] who would like to volunteer or need someone to talk to."

Get Involved!

Email AFA on Campus to join their listserv and receive information about upcoming meetings, events and volunteer opportunities. Attend a general body meeting to learn more about how you can get involved. New members are always welcome!

Attend the Broome County Office for Aging's "Sharing in the Caring" event on Sept. 26 to take the REST Companion training course. Email AFA on Campus for more information and register by Sept. 21. Another opportunity for students to take the course will be available in October. 

Photo: Tobin-Miyaji (left) with fellow AFA on Campus members volunteering at the Yesteryears site in Endwell.