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New West resident takes the helm of the New Westminster UGM

From teacher to outreach worker to UGM manager: Meet Edith Tazumi
Building connections: Edith Tazumi, left, visits with Liz Hunter at the UGM’s recent barbecue. Hunter and her team from the New Westminster Public Library visit the UGM New West once a week as part of their community outreach efforts. Photo: Solomon Hsu

A local resident has taken the helm of the Union Gospel Mission in New Westminster.

On July 3, Edith Tazumi became the manager of the downtown facility, taking on a role vacated by Bill Wong, who had held that post for 25 years.

“I pretty much oversee the centre in terms of just like making sure we are able to do what we can for the community,” she said of her new job. “Brendyn (McKillop), the supervisor here, he oversees the everyday operational outreach stuff. So Brendyn and I work really closely together to just make sure that we do what we can every day.”

UGM journey

Tazumi, who has an education degree, worked as a teacher prior to joining the Union Gospel Mission.

“It was actually kind of serendipitous,” she said. “I was laid off in one of the schools, and then there was an opening for a GED position at the UGM in Vancouver.”

With her experience in teaching English and English as a second language and having worked a summer stint with inner city kids in Philadelphia, Tazumi landed the job in the UGM’s learning centre in Vancouver, where she taught for three years. After leaving to travel and start a family – and moving to New West – she contacted the local centre about volunteering, and instead.

Tazumi was hired as an outreach worker 11 years ago, moving up to a resource centre supervisor and assistant manager of the facility before taking on her new role. She said Wong took the facility from a “hole in the wall” to the service it is today.

“He’s worked really, really hard to establish really good relationships with people in the community,” she said. “And so, for me stepping into that, I’m so thankful. Because of all the foundational work that’s he’s done, I get the easy part. Because he’s done so much hard foundational work, it’s really just about nurturing what he’s done, you know? So how do I feel about it? Thankful for everything that he’s done.”

Diverse clientele

Located at 658 Clarkson St., the New West UGM serves breakfast and lunch, offers outreach services, and provides a space for programming needed by vulnerable residents. That includes visits from Fraser Health’s IHART team, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and dental hygiene students from UBC.

“We have a bunch of different groups and service providers that come in on a regular basis – we’re basically a hub,” Tazumi said. “We like to be able to offer that space, to be able to find ways to bridge these gaps that we have in meeting the needs of our community members. So, we’re really just trying to nurture that, being a hub.”

The folks who visit the local centre includes regulars who appreciate the services provided and the sense of community, as well as a transient population that’s dropping by, Tazumi said.

“With COVID, it changed some of the dynamics. We see more seniors. We’ve had a few families,” she said. “We have a really interesting mix of people, and it’s been really neat to be able to find ways to connect with everybody.”

One service Tazumi would like the UGM to provide on a more regular basis is its mobile outreach.

“We go to the different areas where there might be camps, or individuals that may not feel comfortable coming in to get services or may not be able to because of mobility issues or whatever,” she said. “So, we’re basically wanting to bridge that gap of being able to reach out to those people that may not be able to come here on site.”

UGM is here to help

Asked if she has a message she’d like to get out to the community, Tazumi said it’s to encourage people not to be shy about sharing what they need – and to not be ashamed or embarrassed if they need help.

“Especially during COVID, when things got really hard, a lot of people that had never experienced need, suddenly, they were dealing with challenges,” she said. “I know there are people that, even to this day, suffer silently, out of shame or whatever. And I just want to say: don’t feel that shame; share what your needs are, so we can help, so people can help you. We’re really here to find ways to help people, in whatever ways that we can. It’s really about seeing where the needs are so that we can help.”