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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 12, 2010

Clinic volunteer Minami honored

by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Colleen Minami

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This is the second of five profiles. For more on Jefferson Award nominees, watch the Sunrise and 10 p.m. Hawaii News Now broadcasts on KGMB and KHNL.

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The Jefferson Awards For Public Service are given each year to ordinary people who do extraordinary things for the community. The awards are sponsored by The Honolulu Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.

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Colleen Minami retired as a public health nurse a decade ago, but now works more hours as an unpaid volunteer.

Whenever something needs doing at the Aloha Medical Mission, Minami is the one to roll up her sleeves and dig in. That's why she is one of five Hawai'i residents who are this year's Jefferson Award recipients. The others are Irene Takeshita, Benedicto Galindo, Janis Loo and Bonnie Holcombe.

The five will be recognized Friday and one will be chosen to represent Hawai'i at a national ceremony in June in Washington, D.C.

"She's a dynamo of hands-on volunteer activism in community health and human services," wrote Ann Miller, of the Aloha Medical Mission, in her nomination of Minami. "She transforms compassion into action by raising funds, planning services and tirelessly nurturing volunteers."

The 67-year-old Minami, a retired state Department of Health public health nurse, founded two free clinics on O'ahu.

The first was at the Institute of Human Services and the second on the grounds of Palama Settlement under the umbrella of the Aloha Medical Mission.

The Pālama clinic sees 2,500 medical and dental patients a year. This year, under Minami's leadership, the clinic is moving to solely offer free dental care to people who don't have insurance.

At the Aloha Medical Mission clinic at Palama Settlement, Minami oversees almost every aspect of the free clinic, from planning to fundraising to establishing policies and developing partnerships, Miller said.

Minami has been a long-time board member and committee chairwoman of Aloha Medical Mission. She serves on several nonprofit boards, including the Honolulu Community Action Program, the Child and Family Service board and the Farrington High School Health Academy.

"If there's a job to get done, and she knows how to do it, Colleen does it and doesn't give up," said Lynn Watanabe, an Aloha Medical Mission community volunteer and current advisory board member. "She's a hard worker. I can't say enough about her. She's kind and generous. She gives of her own money besides giving of her time and energy."

Minami was surprised that she was selected for a Jefferson Award. She believes her efforts are just one cog in a wheel and do not deserve special recognition.

"The clinic is my passion," Minami said. "It's something I really believe in. It helps people in our state who have no alternatives to health care."

Said Miller: "She's really outstanding for the amount of energy she has. She's constantly working and thinking of better ways to improve the free clinic. She's a leader. She's the godmother for the clinic."