On Saturday, November 23, 2113, I participated in the Opening Ceremony of the Tonari Gumi Seniors’ Drop-In and Community Outreach Centre. Fellow GVJCCA Board members who also participated in the Opening Ceremony included Derek Iwanaka, Jack Matsushita and Paul Esslinger, as well as past director Shag Ando. The Centre is located at 42 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver. The Master of Ceremonies was David Iwaasa, executive director of Tonari Gumi. David eloquently spoke in both English and Japanese at the event. The speakers were Consul General Seiji Okada, Tonari Gumi’s chairperson Joji Kumagai, me representing the GVJCCA, Derek Iwanaka of the GVJCCA speaking as chairman of the “Home Away From Home” building fund drive, MP Andrew Saxton, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, and Rocky Ozaki, a member of the Kusumoto family.
Derek Iwanaka gave a history of how the new Centre came into being. The beginning of it all was a conversation a few years ago between Tom Kusumoto and David Iwaasa about providing a better facility for Tonari Gumi. As pointed out by Derek, these two men deserve special credit for the realization of new facilities for Tonari Gumi. In recognition of what Tom has meant to the facility, a plaque was unveiled naming the building in honour of his mother Yoneko Kusumoto. Tonari Gumi was previously located at 511 East Broadway, Vancouver. These were premises owned by the GVJCCA. Attempts to purchase premises next door to Tonari Gumi failed. As a result, a decision was made to purchase the property at 42 West 8th. It was Tom Kusumoto who purchased the building for Tonari Gumi. The GVJCCA sold 511 East Broadway and used most of the sale proceeds to help with renovation of the new building. By doing so, we entered into a joint ownership agreement with Tonari Gumi. Our two organizations worked together from the beginning to see the completion of this magnificent new building.
We have had a long, close relationship with Tonari Gumi. It has been much more than a landlord and tenant relationship. We have closely worked together on behalf of the Nikkei community. For example, we jointly put on the annual Keirokai event in January. With a long history of working together, it should have come as no surprise that Tonari Gumi has invited us to merge with them. There are advantages and disadvantages for both organizations if a merger takes place. Advantages for the GVJCCA include more direct involvement in social issues affecting the community, opportunity for more interaction with post-war issei, and involvement with a dynamic and evolving organization. Further, Tonari Gumi has charitable status. We could also make use of Tonari Gumi administration resources. We are an important organization in the Nikkei community but woefully lack administrative resources to adequately achieve our purposes.
Disadvantages include concerns expressed by the Human Rights Committee of the GVJCAA. At our last Board meeting, many, if not all, HRC Committee members were in attendance. We had requested HRC presence at our Board meeting. There was concern about how human rights activities of the HRC would be affected by any merger and concurrently what the effect would be on Tonari Gumi. The HRC also pointed out that the Bulletin would be affected and that we should consequently include John Greenaway in discussions. We also need to be in communication with the National Association of Japanese Canadians. And we certainly need to listen to the voices of GVJCCA members. What this all means is that it will undoubtedly take several months of discussion from all concerned parties before we ever consider taking a proposal of merger to the membership. The GVJCCA Board welcomes input from everyone on how you feel about the idea of a merger. No matter if we merge with them or not, I think Tonari Gumi should be applauded for the service they provide to the community. I am proud to have been associated with them for many years.
Gary Matson, President, GVJCCA