Sometimes making a difference just means making the time. Kerry Shioya, 49, travels two or three times a month to the Tohoku areas hit by the March 11, 2011, disasters. Sometimes setting out alone, sometimes bringing one of her five children, interested English students or other volunteers, Shioya continues to make time for those affected by the catastrophe.

Although some areas still need relief work, Shioya believes that most places now require something intangible. "Especially in Fukushima, people just need us to bring our bodies and our companionship," she says. "They don't want others to forget them. Going there, being with them, just providing a happy moment in their lives is so important. You don't need a special skill or license; you just need the courage to take that first step and go."

Shioya, a 26-year resident of Tokyo, has volunteered over 50 times, visited 15 different areas to forge relationships with Tohoku residents over multiple visits. Her 10-year-old daughter, herself nearing 20 trips up north, is a pen pal to many residents and has exchanged hundreds of letters so far, although all her children volunteer when they can.