Dayton Foundation donor Alex Hara (center) helps plant cherry trees as a thank you to the Dayton community. CONTRIBUTED

Local professional thanks community, plants 1,000 cherry blossom trees

When disaster struck his native Japan in 2011, Alex Hara felt helpless while watching videos of the devastation left in its wake. In the midst of this tragedy, he was amazed by the support extended to his homeland from the citizens of the United States.

Touched by this generosity, Alex, who is executive director of the Foreign Multinational Corporate Group, Commercial Banking at JP Morgan Chase Bank, decided to give something back to the community he’s called home since 1979.

Alex created the Operation 1,000 Cherry Trees project in 2011 to symbolize the Japanese people’s gratitude for America’s response and to strengthen the ties of friendship between the two countries. With the help of a Dayton Foundation Charitable Checking AccountSM, Alex has helped raise funds to purchase and plant 1,000 cherry trees in Greater Dayton. A recent event celebrated the milestone of the planting of the 1,000th cherry tree, and plans were announced to raise additional funds for planting 1,000 more cherry trees to enhance and beautify Greater Dayton’s landscape.

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Q: Tell us about Operation 1,000 Cherry Trees and what inspired you to create this project.

Hara: On March 11, 2011, a major earthquake hit the northeast part of Japan, causing a tsunami that claimed 20,000 lives. Three days later, I helped create the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, about which a small article was published in the Dayton Daily News. As soon the citizens of this community read it, checks started coming in. In just three months, we collected $33,000. I was very moved by the generosity of this community.

Later I also learned that the first-responder to the tsunami devastation was the Japan-based U.S. military. Under the code name of “Operation Tomodachi” (Tomodachi means friends in Japanese), 20,000 men and women in uniform were deployed and delivered relief materials, as well as conducted search, rescue and recovery missions. In addition, $680 million was sent to Japan from the U.S.

Being halfway across the world in Dayton, I wondered what I should and could do. So, I created the Operation 1,000 Cherry Trees project. Through planting cherry trees, I wanted to express the gratitude of Japanese people for what the people of this community and the U.S. military and citizens did for Japan. There is nothing better than cherry blossoms to represent their heart.

Q: How does it feel to reach the milestone of planting 1,000 Cherry Trees in Greater Dayton? What does this mean for the community?

Hara: Reaching this milestone wouldn’t have been possible without support from so many people, including Dayton Power and Light that helped to contribute 200 trees. It’s the culmination of a sense of gratitude from many Japanese people and companies in the area and community leaders who helped further this mission. I am very happy that we reached the goal so soon.

It’s been such a rewarding experience, because this project has brought the people of this community closer together with the Japanese people. I’d love for Dayton, or the ‘Gem City,’ to be known for cherry blossom trees like in Washington, D.C. It’s nice because the project also has become a community-wide beautification initiative.

Q: What do you love most about Greater Dayton?

Hara: The Dayton community is small enough that you can get to know people, but big enough to make a difference. What has meant the most to me is how generous the people in this community have been. That is the real proof of their warm hearts.

Q: Why is helping others so important to you?

Hara: Every one of us has had situations where we have been at the right place at the right time to make an impact. In these circumstances, you sometimes are the only one who can do something to help others or move a project forward. This is how I felt about Operation 1,000 Cherry Trees. If I didn’t do it, who else would have done it? It’s not just luck but rather an opportunity or responsibility. You give a helping hand to those who need it, no matter how small or big. With Operation 1,000 Cherry Trees, I was in the right position to make an impact.

How does The Dayton Foundation help you help others?

Hara: Establishing the Operation 1,000 Cherry Trees Fund through The Dayton Foundation made my work simpler and, more importantly, gave the project credibility. The Dayton Foundation has been helping our community for a long time. It offers individuals the opportunity to join together to help others. One arrow can do only so much. But three arrows at once, bundled together, can do so much more.

What advice do you give to others about giving?

Hara: Not everyone lives in the same circumstances or has been given the same opportunities. We all come from different backgrounds and different upbringings. Some people are fortunate and some are not. Some are rich yet not happy. Some are not rich but happy. Giving whatever you can gives you a sense of gratitude for what you have.

How would you complete this sentence, “My giving makes me feel ?”

Hara: …Gratitude.

The Dayton Foundation has been helping people help others since 1921 by managing charitable funds, awarding grants to nonprofits and launching community initiatives. Contact the Foundation at (937) 222-0410 or visit www.daytonfoundation.org.

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