On Friday, February 07, 2014, a large group of former English conversation class students and members of Tonari Gumi gathered to say thanks to Roy Uyeda for his 24 years of service as a Tonari Gumi volunteer. He first encountered Tonari Gumi when he moved to Vancouver from Montreal in about 1977. He saw a hand-lettered sign outside a small building on East Hastings Street which had Tonari Gumi written in Japanese and “Japanese Community Volunteers Association” in smaller letters around it and wondered what it was. Later, in 1978 he became a Tonari Gumi staff member, helping seniors in both English and Japanese. Tonari Gumi faced many challenges during those early years of its existence and Roy remembers that some years there was so little money that Tonari Gumi couldn’t afford to pay his salary. However, he stayed on because he felt the work he was doing in helping Japanese Canadian seniors was important and because he has a very understanding wife who encouraged him to stay.
In 1989, Roy retired from the staff of Tonari Gumi, but continued to help by volunteering. At that time, there was a female volunteer from Germany who was teaching Tonari Gumi’s English conversation class and Roy would substitute for her from time to time. By 1990, Roy had become a regular volunteer teaching the English conversation class. In some ways, he was also fulfilling a life-long dream to become a teacher. This has continued for some 24 years and it wasn’t until the end of this last year that he decided that it was time to turn the class over to a younger generation. Today, a large group of his former students and many who had volunteered with or benefitted from his service gathered to pay him homage. Roy’s advice to those contemplating volunteering is as follows: “Volunteering is a good opportunity to help people. As for Tonari Gumi, it is a good way for Japanese Canadians to get involved and feel the pulse of the Vancouver Japanese community. Tonari Gumi is a place where newcomers don’t feel out of place. It’s a friendly place where I can feel at home.”
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Tonari Gumi via e-mail at <email@example.com> or by telephoning (604) 687-2172. See you there. Then maybe a few years later we can host an appreciation party for you!