Mayumi grew up always wanting to have children and to be like her parents. After visiting Canada in 1989 in search of new experiences and meeting her husband, she finally immigrated here in 1994. Post-immigration, Mayumi experienced the very real absence of older role models. She missed her parents.
Cut to 1997. Mayumi and her daughter Momo were playing in the children’s park behind The 519 (the now off-leash dog park). It is there that she learnt from another family about the community centre’s EarlyON programming for diverse families.
From the very onset, Mayumi and Momo felt welcome and at home. Momo was delighted to be among new friends (and toys), and Mayumi got to engage with other parents, grandparents, elders, and caregivers.
“Until then, it was just Momo and me playing together on the playground. I didn’t have many opportunities to talk to other parents. I now got to share and learn parenting experiences from others. The 519 gave both Momo and me community when we most needed it.”
Going through a bunch of old photos from her treasure trove of precious memories, Mayumi recalls the many activities that she, Momo, as well as her son Tosh got to engage in at The 519. This included a Halloween potluck, day field trips, as well as a family camp close to Algonquin, where Mayumi had her first canoeing experience. Momo and Tosh also enjoyed the spring and summer camps that used to be held at the community centre.
When her kids grew bigger and more independent, Mayumi felt the need to give back and support other families. In 2009, she began volunteering at The 519 and a year later, she joined the centre as a staff member. Mayumi now supports families as a Child and Family Program Facilitator.
“Being a parent and EarlyON participant helped me better understand the needs of other families. It taught me that I can be of help to other families too.”
During her time at The 519, Mayumi has learned about the possibility and beauty of families of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and configurations.
“When we come together in community, we realize that the joys and challenges we experience personally might actually be common.”
During the pandemic, when families were most in need of support, Mayumi led virtual Japanese storytime sessions. They fostered Japanese cultures and practices through the use of creative expression, family-to-family social connection, social-emotional skills development, and being kind to each other. By celebrating and holding affirming space, Mayumi engaged 4-5 families every week, including a family all the way from Hawaii.
It is Mayumi’s dream to see more queer Japanese families come through The 519’s doors.
“Unlike other cultures, we do not have a little Japan in our city. It can be isolating, but I want families to know that The 519 is a place where they belong.”
From being a participant to a volunteer to a staff member, Mayumi’s full-circle moment is testimony that it takes a village to raise a family. Here’s to more circle times at The 519 EarlyON centre, and to more such priceless full-circle moments!