Masako Yokota uses her voice to help others

By Sharon Rohwer

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions in early spring, Masako Yokota couldn’t fly to Japan to help her mother, who is living with early stage dementia. Instead, she made the best of a challenging situation and offered her talent in support of all who are living with dementia. On August 29, 2020, Masako held a virtual concert for The Longest Day,® and afterwards, posted her concert online. Her video continues to move others and inspires them to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association®.

Masako sings for charity
Masako singing in 2019

Bringing joy to others
Three years ago, Masako visited a friend in a memory care facility in Sunnyvale, California. The word got out that Masako was a trained classical singer, and she was invited to sing at the facility for a group of residents with advanced memory disorders.

When she entered the room where she was about to perform, her audience sat motionless, with their heads down. And then the magic happened.

“As soon as I started singing Over the Rainbow, everyone lifted their heads and looked at me with eyes wide open,” says Masako. “They started singing along with me, and then, a few of them started singing ahead of me, knowing all of the lyrics! The caregivers were overjoyed, and I was blown away by the reaction.”

Paying it forward
On that day, Masako witnessed the power of music. The experience prompted her to study American jazz standards so that she could continue to touch people’s hearts and evoke memories through her performances.

She held her first benefit concert in 2019 for the cancer research nonprofit where she works. As a lung cancer survivor, Masako joined the nonprofit in 2016, determined to pay forward the love and support that she received during her cancer treatment and recovery.

That determination continued to play out when she met Nancy Westcott, then volunteer co-chair for The Longest Day committee in Northern California and Northern Nevada. Masako learned how she could use her talent – and passion – to raise funds and awareness for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Masako and her mother who is living with Alzheimer's
Masako and her mom

Why she fights
It was an easy decision for Masako to join the fight against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“It’s sad to see your important person changing, being affected by the disease,” says Masako, whose important person is her mom. “I didn’t know it until I experienced it, but I’ve learned that it’s not just about losing memory. Even though she’s in the early stages, my mom is clearly a different person.”

The last time Masako saw her mom was this past February, when she returned to Japan for her father’s funeral. Fortunately, her mom is surrounded by a good network of support, but Masako worries about others who are isolated, especially during the pandemic.

The value of community
Masako understands the value of community during good times and bad. When Masako was diagnosed with cancer, she was a single mom with three kids. Had it not been for the community that rose to support her, she would have moved back to Japan. Instead, she stayed and became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

During the pandemic, Masako believes it’s a good time for someone like her, whose situation is stable, to do something to help those who are less fortunate. 

“We celebrate together when we thrive, and we help one another when we suffer. There is no person at this moment who isn’t affected by the pandemic. We are all in this together,” says Masako.

Going virtual
When Masako first discussed the idea of holding a benefit concert, she thought she’d hold a small event. Then COVID happened, and all events were canceled.

She recalls, “Nancy asked if I would consider doing a virtual concert. I’d never done anything like that, but Nancy was my cheerleader all the way through, offering encouragement, suggestions and advice.

“As a performer, I had to focus on the performance, so I was very grateful for Nancy and for the amazing support provided by the Alzheimer’s Association. Without its fundraising tools, including my web page for The Longest Day, thank you notes, donation tracking, information and resources, I would not have been able to put together my program.”

In addition to entertaining her Zoom audience with her beautiful singing, Masako also incorporated into her program several brief Alzheimer’s Association videos, an informative message from Nancy and her own inspiring story.

Masako performs for The Longest Day
Masako sings in her living room for The Longest Day

Turning adversity into opportunity
Her favorite part? “All of the silver linings,” Masako says. “I turned adversity into an opportunity to learn something new. This event was a godsend. I had never held a virtual event, so this was a perfect opportunity to learn new skills. Everyone seemed to appreciate it, and I’m thrilled.”

In fact, her audience was so engaged that Masako immediately raised $3,465. Anyone who raises more than $1,600 becomes a Solstice Champion, and Masako was the last one named for the 2020 season, which ended on August 31.

She has since uploaded a recording of her August 29 concert on YouTube, with a link to her 2021 fundraising page. As of the posting of this blog she has raised more than $900 since September and is on track to reach the Solstice Champion status this year, too.

Advantages of a virtual event
Masako discovered that there are many advantages to having a virtual event over a live one.

“A typical benefit happens in that one moment only, but people can view a virtual one, if it’s recorded, at their convenience,” said Masako. “I was also able to reach out to friends and family across multiple time zones and continents. People in Japan and New Zealand attended, and my aunt in Boston was watching. I hadn’t seen her for three years, so that was really nice to see her on Zoom.”

Masako appreciates the flexibility afforded by The Longest Day – something that’s even more important this year, when everyone is being asked to adapt to a new “norm.”

“The Longest Day has a large bandwidth for coming up with new ways of doing things,” said Masako. “Turning my concert into a virtual event allowed me to perform without exposing myself to viruses. I was cooped up in the house, but still able to do something good for others.”

You can view and listen to Masako’s The Longest Day Concert on YouTube to get inspired! You can donate to Masako’s team here or register and start your own fundraiser for The Longest Day. If you sign up before December 21, 2020, you’ll receive limited-edition sunglasses and a performance t-shirt in your welcome kit.

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