GivingTuesday photo contest winner: Parveen Khtaria

GivingTuesdayCanadaTo celebrate the first year of GivingTuesday in Canada, we wanted to do something that would encourage and inspire people to think about their role in the community. We decided on a photo contest, and asked people to share their photos that show how they give back. The winning entry was submitted by Parveen Khtaria; she gives back by hosting a Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner every year at her apartment for those who have nowhere else to go because of foster care, their families not accepting them, or having no family around. She has chosen to direct the prize of $250 to TRAC Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre.

We asked Parveen a few questions about why she does what she does. We hope this will inspire you to keep the GivingTuesday spirit going throughout the year.

Parveen Khtaria GivingTuesday

How long have you been offering holiday dinners in your home?

I have been doing the dinners since December 2008.

What inspired you to do this?

There was one Christmas that I was around people, but I felt very alone and unwelcome. I decided that I would never subject myself to that feeling again, and decided that I would begin hosting dinner at my place.

I grew up in foster care, and I would hear stories that there were other people who aged out of care that were spending Christmas by themselves. It is really quite sad. The people invited to my dinners are those that I knew that grew up in foster care that have nowhere else to go, and those that do not have anyone spend the holidays with for whatever reason it may be.

For the most part, it has always been people within my network, but every year, someone brings a guest. This year, Christmas is going to be a little bit different. As you saw the picture, the numbers in my home are getting out of hand. I wanted to host dinner in a space that more than just those I know would be welcome, and I could fit a lot of people. On December 25th, I will be hosting a dinner at Healing Our Spirit BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Society for those that grew up in foster care and those that don’t have anywhere else to be. I needed a space with a full kitchen and Healing our Spirit stepped up to the plate. It isn’t often that you find an organization that is willing to let someone they barely know borrow their space, and open the doors on one of the most significant holidays of the year.

That sounds like a lot of work! Do you do all of the cooking yourself?

In the past I have done all of the cooking myself and it is definitely a lot of work! This year since I expect to be feeding a lot more people, I have put a call out to my friends to come out and help.

Why do you continue to make dinner for all of these people? What benefits do you get out of volunteering this way? What do you like most about it?

I continue to make dinner for all these people for selfish reasons. I would be alone on Christmas, and by making dinner, people come to see me. It has now become tradition.

Doing dinner on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day is very important to me because it is one of the most difficult days of the year for those that have aged out of foster care. Most people are with their families on that day, but for many people that grew up in foster care, they don’t have a family to go home to. Also, many of us can’t get together with our friends that day because they are with their own family.

What I like most is that people do not have to be alone, and instead are with people that they choose to spend time with. How many times do we go to family events, and not really want to be there? In this case, no one comes because they are forced to or pressured to.

You’ve indicated that you want to direct your winnings to TRAC Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre – what is it about the work that they do that inspires you?

I work at TRAC, and I see first-hand the work that we do. We have a very small team, yet we answer thousands of calls from renters every year. I am inspired when I get a call from a tenant, and hear the genuine appreciation for the information received in their voice.

Tenants' rights isn’t a cause that will capture people’s hearts like animal and children’s issues, but it is a very important one because housing is a fundamental need for everybody. I saw that the Victoria Foundation issued a Vital Signs report this year that gave housing in Greater Victoria a C-grade. Our part in addressing housing issues is providing detailed information about residential tenancy law to renters and advocates. We also offer training to interested organizations about residential tenancy law and advocate with other organizations for more affordable housing.

I wanted to donate the $250 I won to TRAC because our website needs updating. It is accessed by thousands of people every month, and we realize that it could be more user friendly. As an organization, an issue that we deal with like many others, is restricted funding. For those that are unfamiliar, what that means is that money can only be used for specific things, and most of the time it is for direct service to clients. Updating websites then goes on the backburner. At TRAC our website is one of our more popular resources so we need to do something.

When someone thinks about $250, it may seem like a small amount of money for a website. However, there is a great organization called the Vancouver Community Network (VCN) that is also a non-profit and they offer low-cost web services to charities like ours and community organizations. That $250 will go a long way because of the services offered by VCN.

What tips would you give to others want to volunteer or give back to their community in some way, but aren’t sure where to start?

Many people think that they need to volunteer with an organization or do it formally in some way, and that isn’t the case.  Figure out what you want to do, and what you are good at and just do it. Sometimes you will be able to find an organization that focuses on that area, and sometimes you won’t. Something so seemingly insignificant like mentoring a kid in the neighbourhood can make such a life changing impact.