A finely-tuned machine

Michele R. Steele, Gunma Prefectural Women’s University


An ALT from California took me to a Gunma JALT meeting my first time, but it was the warmth of the co-president Morijiro Shibayama that kept me going back. He made me feel so personally welcome, enquiring about my wellbeing with each subsequent visit that I vowed to myself in my early days of involvement that if I were ever to be in a position of leadership, I would also treat people with such gracious magnanimity.

JALT Gunma was founded by Morijiro Shibayama and Wayne Pennington over 20 years ago, and without their hard work the chapter would not exist today. As a chapter, we try to be somewhat frugal, considering our budget when planning our meetings and events so that we can stay afloat. We have been blessed with consistently excellent presenters, and it’s always difficult to narrow them down to just one for the Best of JALT Awards which are announced at the national conference each year.
It has been our policy to fill each officer slot with at least two officers to help share the work, and always with at least one native speaker of English and one native speaker of Japanese in each position. This helps everyone to feel equally involved and also ensures smooth communication with other chapters and in the community.
Our officers all work hard to make great meetings possible. Our program chair has found great presenters and has become very skilled at using his Mac to create beautiful posters in order to announce our events. Our publicity chair contacts local newspapers, publishers, and local high schools to publicize the details of our upcoming meetings. Our membership chair sits at the reception table during our meetings in order to assist new members in joining and to process membership renewals. She is active in promoting the organization, and was delighted when I handed her the stack of glossy JALT brochures sent to me by JCO. Our former co-president, Mr. Shibayama, has stepped in as the chapter treasurer and he has truly been an asset, given that he worked for a time as auditor at national level. He also edits our newsletter, Speakeasy, to which members and visiting presenters may submit articles. We are also very fortunate that my co-president, Mr. Harashima, is a whizz at computers and assiduously maintains our homepage.
In addition to the core officers, we have facilities chairs who arrange for meetings to be held at their respective institutions. We also have recording secretaries who take turns recording notes at our meetings to be later submitted in reports to The Language Teacher. If one of them is unable to attend, they work together to make sure an alternate is in attendance. Our social chair prepares refreshments for every meeting and organizes the annual holiday party.
I have heard that other chapters have difficulty filling officer positions and have been asked how we are able to get so many volunteers. There seems to be a consensus that the chapter is a shared investment. We realize that JALT benefits all of us and that if we want to continue to have a local chapter, we have to work to make it happen. More importantly, it is clearly a labour of love for all involved. There is a loyalty and dedication that I am truly honoured to experience. It is almost as though JALT Gunma is a family, and this was most evident when we all came together in late August to mourn the sudden and premature loss of a dear friend and longtime member. Our meetings will continue with her in our shared memory.
Many of the members of JALT Gunma were working together cooperatively long before I arrived. It is with this humbling knowledge that I attempt to serve the chapter as best I can. Now, as co-president with Hideto Harashima, I try to be as warm and welcoming as Mr. Shibayama was to me. His are big shoes to fill.
We hold meetings every month except March and December, when we have a holiday party, and August, during which we have our annual Summer Workshop in Kusatsu. Come visit us sometime.

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