Meet New West’s new Citizen of the Year

It was 2008, and Nadine Nakagawa was moving from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland. She didn’t know much about the area, so she figured a place close to SkyTrain would be ideal.

Enter New Westminster.

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Nine years later, and Nakagawa and her partner are still living in the city. They’ve moved around a few times within its boundaries, but they could never bring themselves to leave, she said.

It makes sense.

Nakagawa has become entrenched in the community. She’s volunteered for the Elizabeth Fry Society, Lookout Emergency Aid Society, New Westminster Environmental Partners, Brow of the Hill Residents’ Association (she is currently its president), and more.

For her impressive number of accomplishments, Nakagawa was named the 2017 Citizen of the Year at the Platinum Awards held last week at Starlight Casino.

“It was really nice,” she told the Record.

“There were a few women there who I’d worked on projects with, and it felt really validating for their work as well – so it was a really nice moment.”

Speaking with Nakagawa, it’s obvious she finds joy in helping people pursue their passions.

The Record caught up with her this week to hear more about her volunteer experience, what’s left to do and where she’d like to see the city go from here.

 

What was your first volunteer experience in New Westminster?

One of the first things I volunteered for was the Elizabeth Fry Society. I volunteered in their drop-in centre for marginalized women, and then later I ended up working for them for three years.

 

From there, what was next?

Once I started working for EFry, I could no longer volunteer for them, obviously, so I did a community kitchen for three years for Lookout Emergency Aid. We used to do Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving dinner. … I just started going to things in New West and realizing that there’s a big group of people in New Westminster who are really involved and passionate about the community and obviously, since that time, I’ve found a change in the community – the number of events that go on, the number of things that are happening in the city has changed quite a bit since I first moved here.

 

What are some challenges? What keeps you going? 

I think again it’s working with other people. It’s really exciting sharing your passions with other people and helping people work on things that they’re passionate about. I think the challenge is that there is so many good things going on that … there’s too much that I could say ‘yes’ to that I’d be very, very happy to be a part of, but (I’m) really trying to pick which will have the most impact or just (decide) where best to spend my time because there’s so many amazing things to be done here.

 

Are there any other challenges that stick out?

Something that I talk about a lot is diversity and diverse voices. I think that there are lots of people who are engaged in the city, I don’t necessarily know that that group of people reflects the entire city, and I would love to be able to work with more diverse community members whose issues aren’t normally represented. …

 

OK, so how do you get these people out if they’re not out already? 

I think there’s work to be done on lots of different levels, like the city, as an organization, and other local organizations. Just trying to continuously talk about it and (trying to welcome) people. I think things like when I hold events, having child care at them is always really important to me because if people are busy and working, and (if) they’re having to pay for child care to come out to a community meeting, (that) isn’t realistic for a lot of people. And … how we host events. If you have to push your way to the front to speak, to say something, to make a point, to share, a lot of people aren’t going to be willing to do that – that’s hard for me to do – so I think maybe just trying to rethink how we behave in the public space.

 

What kinds of supports would you like to see from the city? Recently, at council, there was a lot of discussion about diversity on committees. What role do you think the city should be playing in that?

I think the city first needs to acknowledge that often what they do doesn’t reflect certain aspects of the community, and also acknowledge that they might not know because they don’t ask the question. On things like the official community plan, they asked how many renters were there, and we saw quite drastically that there was not very many renters participating. So knowing that that is true is the first step to addressing the problem, and I think being creative in outreach and also finding partners and community leaders is the key to reaching out to the communities.

 

You are the constituency assistant for New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy. How does your job work with your volunteer life?

It goes really nicely because my job is a lot of listening, and I hear from a lot of members of the community about how things impact them. So I really have a good ear to the ground for that. It makes me even more involved that my job is working for the people of New Westminster. … I think it really just amplifies it.

 

When you moved here nine years ago, is this where you saw your life going?

No. No, I don’t know. I’d just graduated with my undergraduate degree, and I wasn’t sure. I think that this sense of community that I feel right now is really something that I didn’t expect to feel here. So no, I wasn’t sure, but it feels pretty good right now.

 

What’s next for you? I really want to know. 

That’s what everyone wants to know.

 

Well, you’re part of so many projects and some of them are big – the truth and reconciliation stuff, it’s a lofty thing.

I think I want to continue to see how that evolves in the city, and I think, again, I want to work on representation issues in the city and the community at-large. I think moving away from some committees to more projects-based work is where I see myself focusing.

 

Any projects lined up right now that you’re excited about?

I’m very passionate about women’s leadership and diverse leadership. So there’s something that’s been sort of buzzing around about doing something about that maybe in the new year, but I don’t know exactly what that’ll look like just yet.

 

You talk about leadership, for women especially. Is there ever a chance that you’d consider running for city council?

I would never say ‘no,’ but … I think the end goal can’t just be myself or just one person elected. I think there’s a lot of structural change that I would want to focus on.

 

When you say structural change, what do you mean?

I think the system makes it very, very difficult for diverse voices to come forward; for women’s voices to come forward. I’ve talked to a lot of women at different levels of politics about some of the difficulties they face before and after they’ve been elected, and I think that there’s some really concrete things that we could work on together about that. Even things like offering child care at council meetings or school board meetings I think would be a really concrete thing that might make it easier for people to become involved.

 

Do you ever foresee there being a moment when you’ve done so many things that you’re going to just going to say “this is enough”?

No. I don’t think so because there’s people always asking or talking about what they’re excited about that I’m also excited about. So I don’t think so.

 

You talked a lot about getting other people involved. If you could say one thing to people considering getting involved, what would you say?

I would say that your voice is needed and you’re valued, and come with me. I will try and introduce you to people or try and make space for you and ensure others recognize that as well.

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