She volunteered on the AIDs issue in New York, and at a Hospice on Pine Ridge, and she worked to help with recovery from the 2011 Japanese Tsunami.
So what does any of that, have to do with this former nurse choosing to pursue art full time?
When you see her work, and hear her speak: somehow it all comes together.
As we introduce you to an artist with a message, at a small studio, Along the Way in Rapid City.
Yoko Sugawara grew up in a small town in northern Japan, with her twin sister Keiko. Her family owned a company that manufactured traditional Rice Wine.
But at age 21 Yoko moved to the U.S. went to school, earned two degrees, and worked in nursing. But these days, Yoko creates art, that both catches your eye and delivers a message: often a striking one, like this sculpture here.
Ceramic Artist Yoko Sugawara says, "So these people probably got lots of outsiders come in and tell you what will be the best way to live better and finally she stood up 'I listened to you up until now. But now it's my turn to teach you."
This one is named "Now it's my turn to teach you." Her favorite part on this one: the facial expression: representing human Resilience and Defiance.
Ceramic Sculptor Yoko Sugawara says,: "Although I took her image as a Africa woman, but I try not to limit this subject to one race.
She says from start to finish, sculpting, firing, painting: each piece take about 3 months. It takes perhaps 3 seconds to see the message of her pieces. This one is intended to represent a local Lakota man. His name is simply "Defiance".
Yoko says, "I usually combine the facial expression and certain elements of Earth, so I put horns, Buffalo Horns. This is rock it you can see, he represents, I mean, He's a rock."
And in her small studio, where she molds and shapes new images, it becomes clear that her dedication and passion for those less fortunate, convert her sensitivity and emotions to 3-D images.
Another current theme: women with inner strength.
This one named "Inner Judges" portrays a woman in her 60's, reflecting female vulnerability.
Sugawara says "So she is judging herself. Inner judges are toads, telling her, she's judging herself that she is not good enough"
"I think I myself have that too. Sometimes you just criticizing yourself. You're not good enough, you're not pretty enough, you haven't done much," Yoko says.
This piece, is inspired by a sketch by her favorite painter Goya in the late 1700's. It shows people carrying donkeys to reflect inequality. Her much different piece portrays that some inequality still exists. Her sculpture is named "The Weight of Injustice". The toad represents greed.
Sugawara says, "With this weight on he's gonna try to stand up and represent human resilience"
And hope, as he tries to stand up and fight back against injustice.
But through the stark images, the pained expressions, there is a bit of blue sky on the horizon: that by showing human defiance and resilience, there is also hope of overcoming.
Her art both catches the eye, and delivers a message, often a striking one, from deep within her tenderhearted soul.
By the way her pieces are for sale. Yoko's artist name is "Tenyoh Creations". And she plans to just keep on creating into the future.
If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call or e-mail us to let us know.