When Jas Bassi joined TD Bank Group (TD) in 2020, she began her career in consumer protection. While she helped people during her day job, she felt inspired to help others outside of work, too.
She was excited to find out about the TD Ready Commitment, the Bank’s corporate citizenship platform, and the opportunities it offers for colleagues to volunteer with local community organizations.
“Working at TD can be really rewarding, and I love that TD supports so many initiatives that colleagues can get involved with and give back to the communities where we work,” she said.
When her manager forwarded her an opportunity about Together Project, a MakeWay charitable initiative, Jas saw that this was a perfect opportunity to honour the people who had helped her own father forty years ago.
“My dad arrived as a refugee to Canada, so that’s why this was an important cause to me,” she said. “We belong to a religious minority in India, and young men from our community were being targeted.”
Five years after fleeing India for Greece as a refugee in the 1980s, her father landed in Montreal, where locals helped him feel at home.
“To this day, he still talks about the people he met when he first moved to Montreal, and the positive impact they had in his life, motivating him to apply for jobs and assisting him with everything he needed,” she said. “Receiving that help meant the world to him.”
And while she was growing up, Jas always saw her father paying it back by assisting others who were new to Canada.
“If there are any newcomers in the area and they need help, my dad is always willing to help out,” she said. “It’s not even financial support, but it’s about having people to guide you through things that are not even simple to us— getting a health card, getting a family doctor, getting a bank account, all of that.”
She reflects on her own success as a direct result of the people who had helped her father before she was even born.
“If I could make even half of that impact, that would mean so much to me,” she said. “Because I’m definitely reaping the rewards of the support that my dad received.”
In May 2022, Jas began volunteering with Together Project as a Welcome Group Lead. This meant that along with Jahan, her TD colleague and fellow Welcome Group Lead, she would be coordinating a group of TD volunteers as they connected with a refugee family.
After reviewing their skills and interests, Together Project staff matched them with a 27-year-old man and his younger siblings living in Etobicoke. With their parents still in Afghanistan, the oldest brother had become the guardian for his brother and sister, aged 11 and 13.
While Jas and her group were ready to help the family handle a number of issues, they soon realized that the family mainly wanted social support.
“Honestly, I was surprised at how well-settled they were,” she said. “They were referred to a lot of resources before we met them.”
She was also surprised that there wasn’t a language barrier.
“Even though they said they didn’t speak a lot of English, we’ve been communicating with them as if they’ve spoken English for their entire lives,” she said. “In general, we underestimate how resilient refugees are!”
In July, when Together Project held a summer picnic at High Park Nature Centre for newcomers and volunteers, Jas and Jahan met the siblings in person for the first time.
“The picnic was a big tipping point in helping form the relationship between us and the family,” she said. “During the pandemic, we were communicating, but our relationship didn’t really develop until we saw each other face-to-face. Afterwards, he felt more comfortable reaching out when needing to talk or when he had a specific question.”
It was an opportunity for Jas and Jahan to truly see the amount of responsibility that the oldest sibling had on his shoulders.
“It’s a lot to manage because he’s the primary caretaker for his siblings,” she said. “I’m very close in age to him, and I could not imagine taking on the responsibility of two younger siblings.”
While the group has been encouraging him to pursue his dreams of attaining a CPA or an MBA, and supporting him through the stress of sponsoring his parents and siblings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they have also tried to remind him to take care of himself.
“We’re encouraging him to go out and be a 27-year-old,” she said. “He’s doing amazing, taking care of his family, but we’re still telling him that he needs to energize himself, too.”
The group hopes to meet in person before the weather gets too cold. “There are free walking tours, and there are parts of Toronto they haven’t seen yet,” she said. “We’d love to help them come downtown and show them around!”
For anyone who is uncertain about what they can contribute as a volunteer, Jas notes that the Welcome Group Program is a great opportunity due to the group support model.
“There are people who volunteer year after year, so it’s not like you’re doing it alone— you’re doing it as a team, and you can bounce ideas off of each other,” she said.
And Jas urges anyone to join, even if they don’t have any experience with newcomers.
“I think that everybody can contribute because a lot of the support you’re providing are things that we’ve been dealing with every day,” she said. “And more importantly, if you’re somebody who can listen, you can be a great volunteer. Even if you feel like you have nothing to contribute, you do.”
Jas notes volunteering complements many of her colleagues’ work tasks and responsibilities.
“We do important work during our day job, but being able to participate in programs like this adds another layer and definitely makes it even more rewarding.”
MakeWay – Together Project’s collaboration with TD has been made possible through the TD Ready Commitment.
As Together Project’s Co-Director, Andrew Lusztyk explains, “Support from TD has given us an opportunity to grow our program’s reach and impact, and for TD colleagues to help us build more welcoming communities.”
To learn more about the TD Ready Commitment, visit https://www.td.com/ca/en/about-td/ready-commitment.
Interview by Jennilee Austria