Posted on November 17th in News

Creating Change Through Community Service

When Koto Imahori transferred from her high school in Japan to one in Wisconsin, she was filled with nerves.

“I was nervous, and I was not confident in myself that I could communicate with Americans as I had never spoken English until that point,” Koto said.

Yet, when she arrived at her new school, Koto realized she was not the only one nervous about being in a new place. Her high school hosted 90 international students from around the world. Spending time with her classmates taught Koto the importance of learning about other people and the importance of diverse perspectives.

She continued to learn this lesson as she enrolled in community college and became a member of Phi Theta Kappa.

“Being a member of the PTK Honor Society [has had significant positive impacts] on my life, allowing me to see the world from different angles,” Koto said.

Koto was aware of the manifold challenges people went through. PTK helped her realize she could play a role in shouldering some of those challenges.

“One little help can save this world, and somebody needs our little kindness,” Koto said. With this belief in mind, Koto has taken it upon herself to offer all the “little kindnesses” and “little helps” she can.

“As President of PTK Honor Society at Iowa Community College, I have led community service projects and volunteer activities,” Koto said. “I have participated in community services such as food banks, walking the elderly around nursing homes, blood drives, babysitting, and clothing banks for the chapter’s projects and outside of the PTK. Community service and volunteerism are meaningful to me because those events let me find my new self and learn new perspectives, while helping others.”

Through community service, Koto has learned a lot about understanding new perspectives and helping others, and she has also found confidence in her ability to create change.

In Japan, Koto fell in love with running and began to compete in track. Despite her love for the sport, she also struggled against the toxic aspects of Japanese sports culture.

“I practiced seven hours every single day, spending more time with my coaches and teammates than with my family,” Koto said. “My Japanese coaches always hit me when I lost the races at the track meets. I cannot count how many times I was hit in the first decade. I gradually put my self-worth in performing on the track because my coaches changed their attitudes towards me by my performance.”

Studying exercise science and forging relationship with her coaches in the U.S. has made her determined to share her experiences and change toxic Japanese sports culture.

During summers and winter breaks, Koto serves as an assistant track coach for middle school and high school students at her former track club in Japan. As a coach, she focuses on both her team’s physical and mental health.

Koto also founded the Eating Disorder Organization for eating disorder survivors in Japan.

As a young athlete, Koto always felt the pressure to be thinner. Striving to reach an impossible standard, Koto used dangerous advice from social media and lost 35 pounds in a month and developed bulimia.

“Through my recovery process, I recognized the need for healthy support for young athletes,” Koto said.

Since founding the organization, five administrators have joined Koto with the goal of raising money to offer counseling and support for young athletes struggling with body image issues and eating disorders.

“My purpose for this project is to set up safe places for young athletes in Japan,” Koto said. “I give them and their parents credible information for their eating disorders treatments or mental health support. I also provide them with protected places to discuss their problems through individual Zoom counseling and in-person group counseling for free.”

Koto credits her PTK membership for helping her become a more confident and focused advocate and gave her the opportunity to devote more of her time to community service.

“PTK has helped me become a better person, always asking how I can contribute to our society,” Koto said.

With the help of PTK, Koto has also been able to achieve academic excellence and transfer to a four-year university.

As a PTK member, Koto was named a New Century Transfer Pathway Scholar and a Hites Transfer Scholar. She also received a PTK transfer scholarship from New York University, which she began attending this fall.  

“I truly believe that I couldn’t have done it without the PTK,” Koto said. “Now I am confident in myself not because I earned those awards or received those acceptance letters. It’s because by joining the PTK program I have figured out what I want to do in the future and how to make impacts on society or community as a person. I truly believe that, at NYU, I can help even more people with my leadership skills and helping spirit I gained in the PTK.”

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