It was only a “2” on the Richter scale, but the earthquake that shook the Tokyo suburb of Saitama their first night in Japan was a little frightening to the Forest Park and Oak Park teens and chaperones visiting on a West-Cook YMCA service project.

“I woke up to the whole house shaking underneath and on top of me,” wrote service project coordinator Elena Brewer in her first blog post from Japan. “My group of teens were all fairly scared by the incident but knew they were in good hands with their host families.”

Seven local teens and three adults are taking part in the West-Cook Y’s first cultural exchange with Japan. For three years, Japanese Y members have come to Oak Park to experience the Chicago area.

“For the first time, we’re sending our teens to Japan,” said West-Cook CEO Jan Pate.

The teens, chaperones and coordinator will volunteer at a strawberry farm in the town of Sendai, near the site of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In the group are the three Forest Park Blaylock siblings, Brandon, Simone and Justin, children of District 91 school board member Sean and library board member Andrea. Other participants are Kenndy Byrd, Alexis Chandler, Eric Tynybekov and Julian Pico and parents Evan Pincham and Fadge Flowers-Pincham.

The group left the Oak Park Y around 10 a.m. in a minibus and landed in Tokyo 12 hours later.

Keep track of the teens on their blog at

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...