Roman Deguchi: Inner West Neighbourhood Aid

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Roman Deguchi: Inner West Neighbourhood Aid

Roman uses plants and pets to make the world a better place

Roman Deguchi lives by a statement he once heard from a young father living with paraplegia: "Society determines my disability, not my disability."

He tries to soften society’s role in the equation by designing, renovating and maintaining gardens for people with disabilities and elderly people.

He leads two staff and over 70 volunteers at Inner West Neighbour Aid (IWNA) and they have transformed 271 gardens in the last year.

“My passions are plants and the community so I couldn’t ask for more,” says Roman.

Having worked in horticulture all his life, Roman was running his own business when he was offered contract work for Neighbour Aid. This turned into a permanent job as Home Maintenance Coordinator.

Roman was also the driving force behind a successful Neighbour Aid Pets Program through which older people can adopt an older pet from the RSPCA and have access to a volunteer dog walker if needed. This is one of INWA’s flagship programs and provides happiness and companionship for many people each year.

Now Roman is spearheading the 5 Senses Garden at Rhodes Park in Concord, which is scheduled to open in 2018.
It is a joint project between Neighbour Aid and the Canada Bay Council, where Roman sits on the Access and Advisory Committee.

“Looking around, I noticed there were parks for specific groups, sports fields for playing footy, playgrounds for kids, golf courses for those who play golf,” Roman says.

“But there were not enough community spaces.

“So, we’ve got this huge project to make a garden inclusive. Some people can’t enjoy all aspects of a garden, if they’re vision-impaired for example, so we make ways for everybody to engage with nature, with smelling plants, tactile plants, plants that engage all senses.”

The 5 Senses Garden will host interactive sessions with health experts, horticulturists, cooks, art therapists and others whose work can benefit people who are elderly, marginalised or have a disability.

Roman says he’s incredibly flattered to be voted a Westfield Local Hero.

“Being recognised by the community is not something I take for granted,” he says.

Neighbour Aid will use its $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant to fund 50 interactive sessions at the 5 Senses Garden, covering speaker fees and equipment.

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