Wake up, go to work, sleep and repeat! This used to be my life, an office job filled with stress, angry clients, indifferent co-workers, and a constant checking of the clock to see if 6:00 PM had finally arrived!
That all changed with ATI Foundation… my days are now filled with love, compassion, and a lot of genuine laughter. I remember my first day very clearly; I walked into a large room and was met with eager eyes and big smiles. Amongst the sea of smiles, Palini’s stood out to me like a wave, big and powerful. She waved at me like we’d been friends for years, and when I asked for her name, she has the
unique trait of always saying her first and last name. She had a small language barrier, as she had recently moved to Canada and was still learning English. I was able to relate to her on a personal level, as I also experienced the same struggle when I first moved to Canada. Even when she could not quite find the words, Palini had a way of answering everything with a smile! I loved that about her. I quickly learned that she was a bubbly girl who loved to sing and dance. As someone who got nervous even talking in big groups, I was impressed by the way she was able to capture the crowd fearlessly with her dance moves.
Similar to Palini, Praveen is another student that I hold close to my heart. He is someone that does not like loud noises but is abled to be calmed by something as small as a balloon. He enjoys the little things in life such as playing catch, blowing bubbles, the sensation of the wind in his hair and most of all, music.
My experience at ATI Foundation made me realize how essential music was to the human experience. As a child, I had grown up playing musical instruments such as the Veena, but had always taken music for granted. I never realized the power it had on many individuals. Every student at ATI Foundation loves listening to music, whether it be singing along to a song, dancing or just listening to the beat. Music was something that was sure to bring everyone together and make everyone happy.
Arjun is another student that absolutely loves music. For the most part, he does not speak but he’s able to recite the lines to songs such as “Enna Solla Pogurai” and “Thalli Pogathae”, effortlessly. He loves melody songs and can be found constantly singing and humming the tune. I was impressed by how much he was able to remember, by just hearing a song once. Sakipan is another student that also enjoys music, as well as, puzzles. In fact, he enjoys it so much that he does the same puzzle every day. Sakipan loves sports and has a habit of making sure that everything always remains clean and spotless, a trait my mom would surely love!
Just like Palini, Praveen, Arjun, and Sakipan, I came to realize that every student at ATI Foundation is a snowflake; they each held a hidden interest and talent that made them unique. Together they formed a beautiful season such as winter, filled with laughter, lights and love.
The students aren’t the only people who make this organization such a great place to work at. When I applied as a rehabilitation social worker at ATI Foundation, I had no idea how much this experience would change my life. I had previously worked with individuals with special needs before, but I had never worked at an organization as genuine as ATI Foundation. It’s an organization that seeks to provide services and build a home for differently abled individuals. Unlike many other organizations, ATI Foundation recognizes the taboo many caregivers of special needs individuals face in the Tamil community; as they are not allowed to talk about their mental health when caring for a loved one. As caregivers, parents often make many sacrifices and as a result tend to get exhausted and worn out. However they are deemed as bad parents for talking about these issues. ATI breaks down this barrier and provides a safe space for individuals to talk about and seek help in regards to these issues.
Unlike many other organizations, the founders of this organization are directly involved with the clients. As promised in their mandate, Viji Aunty (the founder of ATI) along with her children, acts as a mother for all the clients at ATI. She works hard to ensure that no student is turned away and makes every effort possible to personally care for them. When she walks into the room, the face of every student lights up into a smile. As a caregiver herself, Viji Aunty has faced many hardships in her life. However, the amount of compassion and love she has for people is amazing to see. She is a true inspiration to us all!
Working at ATI has been remarkable in so many different ways. ATI is not just an organization that seeks to provide a service. It provides a home, and a loving family. I’m just grateful that I got the opportunity to be part of such a beautiful family!