Toshie Okada is someone who has brought a smile to many people through volunteering, and says she enjoys “doing small things” and not attracting attention to herself.
This is certainly true as she has played the role of jopette, the blue-and-white mime, for many years during Vernon’s Winter Carnival.
She likes meeting new people, being part of the community, and focusing on the positive. Okada immerses herself fully in new experiences, often led by her wandering curiosity, which she attributes as a factor in her arriving in Vernon from Japan many years ago.
Okada had studied musical engineering and classical piano, graduating with a degree in music. She also worked for Japanese families tutoring their children, and returned to school to improve her English.
Seeking a new challenge, Okada began working as a companion to adults with acquired brain injury. While this work was more rewarding, she soon felt uncertain about her future and curiosity about the bigger world set her on a quest to follow her dreams.
Okada applied for a working-holiday Visa and landed in Vancouver.
“I was wandering. I wanted to go to Rocky Mountains to guide in Japanese.”
But then she saw a job advertised in a beautiful place with mountains: Vernon. She moved immediately and began making and selling sushi. She met her husband while working in this job, and after returning to Japan for her snowboard and to update her immigration status, they have lived and worked in the North Okanagan valley ever since.
While settling permanently, Okada received training on applying for jobs from the Vernon and District Immigrant Services Centre and volunteered to improve her English.
To meet others in the community, Okada organized free origami workshops and she taught Japanese to Canadian-born children so they could talk with their grandparents overseas. Okada still enjoys representing her Japanese heritage, reconnecting with her culture and sharing it with others.
As she became more comfortable in her new home, Okada started volunteering extensively with organizations including the Vernon Public Art Gallery, the Okanagan Science Centre, the 55+ Games, and Special Olympics.
And she’s putting her musical training into service with a local choir group.
Okada is petite with boundless energy and her capacity for giving to others also seems boundless.
She earned a certificate in Special Needs from Okanagan College and works for Kindale Developmental Association supporting adults who participate in their day programs.
She treats everyone with respect and sees her role not as ‘helping’ but as teaching people with varying abilities how to do things themselves. Okada is very aware of the significance she has in their lives. Her perspective is: ‘You’re not just there for work, you are part of their life, and you should enjoy being part of their life, creating a good memory that they can remember forever as they get older.’
Okada’s focus on creating positive days for everyone is effervescent as she shares what gives her happiness in her own life: “I like to do small things that no one has to notice.”