Bright News

Gordon Sakaue: One volunteer, many tasks

Retired math teacher-turned-rather busy volunteer Gordon Sakaue has become a critical go-to guy, filling in anywhere – and everywhere – needed for Bright Futures for Youth.

Driver. Tutor. Handyman.

“Within the first six months of retirement, what I missed the most was the interaction with students,” says Sakaue, who retired in 2014 after teaching 21 years at Lyman Gilmore Middle School in Grass Valley.

At school, he had been aware of The Friendship Club requests for referrals through the years. After hearing about program needs at a social gathering, Sakaue looked into volunteering at the organization.

He started as a volunteer driver, transporting students to the after-school program or on field trips. Now he does a lot more, from serving as an occasional fix-it handyman to food prep worker. 

“Whatever the need, Gordon steps up,” says Cindy Hintz, Community Engagement Manager for Bright Futures for Youth.

Always a teacher – and a motivator

But being a tutor – where he connects with and helps students with their schoolwork, from chemistry to math, even English or history – has become his primary focus in recent years.

Gordon Sakaue

“Especially during COVID, it has been great to be able to come in weekly and see students over a period of time in a place where you can check in and be interactive,” he says. “Where you have a chance to get to know them.”

Tutoring offers a different experience than as a classroom teacher. Working with students one-on-one, the connection is more direct and adaptable than with 100-plus students in daily groups.

He meets with six students every week, helping them with the challenges of algebra formulas, geometry theorems, chemistry equations – and so much more.

“The rewarding part is interacting and helping students understand,” he says. “Often, it’s more a matter of reassuring them. The students generally can raise their level, and it helps to aim to keep them motivated, organized, and on track.”

Focus, hard work and motivation are critical for success in school – and life.

“The best part (of tutoring) is to see how students can empower themselves with their schoolwork,” says Sakaue.

Bay Area to the backcountry

It’s all part of his way of giving back to his adopted community, a much-different environment for Sakaue, who had a globetrotting childhood; his father worked for U.S. State Department posts in Germany and Japan.

Sakaue and his late wife – Betty Jo Fisher, a longtime financial officer with technology companies in northern California – met in college at Berkeley. Eventually, they sought a change from their lengthy commutes in the Bay Area, perhaps closer to recreational opportunities in the Sierras.

“With our schedules, it was hard to imagine starting a family in the Bay Area,” says Sakaue. Her switch to Grass Valley Group brought them to Nevada County in 1985. “The climate and geography in the foothills were somewhat familiar because of backpacking and cross-country skiing.”

The community has become home, and was a great place to raise their now-adult children who live in the Bay Area.

In addition to Bright Futures for Youth, Sakaue is active in several other organizations, including the tech and production side of the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierras (CATS), and outreach efforts for the board of the Gold Country Cal Alumni Association.

“Fortunately, I get to choose how to spend my time in retirement,” says Sakaue, who earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, teaching credential at Cal State Hayward, and later a master’s in education from Sacramento State University.

And Bright Futures for Youth is definitely a worthy time investment.

The organization and its three programs – The Friendship Club, NEO and SAFE – “definitely fill a need,” he says. “The organization provides vital support to the younger portion of the community.”

Sakaue encourages other retirees to consider volunteering at Bright Futures for Youth.

“When you come to volunteer, there are so many ways to contribute,” he says. “I joined a host of people who already had established multiple areas of involvement.”