Viji Hariharan first came to learn about Reena while working as the Director of Finance at WoodGreen Community Services. After 10 years at the organization, she was ready to move on and make an impact at another agency when her boss, at the time, mentioned he had recently heard about Reena and how impressed he had been. “Till then I had not heard about Reena,” says Viji, “but the minute you know, then you hear about it from anybody you talk to…you find connections. So, it gave me all these positive vibes and feedback.” Viji decided to apply for the position and says there has not been a dull minute since the minute she joined.
“I really thought, why would a Jewish organization hire me? I am not Jewish. I was going to be part of the face of the organization. What I realized is the organization is extremely objective and it helps everybody. 50 % of the clientele is not Jewish.” Viji said, to her, the fact that she was even considered showed her how objective Reena is. “People of all races and cultures work here. I found it very inclusive and that was important to me.” As a first-generation immigrant Viji says she realized that as an Indian woman of colour, she could have had three strikes against her. “But to find a place that was so inclusive,” says Viji, “I knew I had come to the right place where I would be valued and appreciated for what I do and not discriminated against.” Viji says she has found herself very comfortable working in an organization based on Jewish values. “It reflects on my culture as well. We do a prayer before a meal, before opening a home. And Passover, where there are days, you don’t eat certain things, we have the same in my culture. You are not so different. The values were clear.”
Viji immigrated to Canada in 2000 with her husband and two children. Although they were both accountants in India, their degrees were not recognized in Canada. They had to start all over again and both went back to school while working evenings and weekends and successfully completed their certifications and master’s degrees. Viji has paid it forward, mentoring other newcomers, including those with accounting experience. “If I can do it, they can do it!” she says. Today she sits on the board of an organization that supports newcomers.
While Viji has been in the developmental sector for most of her career, she says Reena stands out because of the people. “The first thing Bryan told me was that everything was about the individual. I don’t do direct services, but what keeps me going is the fact that you’re working for an agency that supports people, supports the housing needs, making sure that they can live independently…every single model possible. That keeps me going and that is the passion of this sector.” Viji also says Reena’s philosophy of sharing information with other organizations and advocating for the sector is something that makes Reena unique. “I’ve never seen an organization that shares information so freely with others without asking for anything in return. I don’t see that with any other charity. That is not the culture here. And being sector leaders…that is very important for the organization, like how we can advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities at every level.”
Viji continues working diligently to ensure that Reena grows stronger and stronger and can continue to support the dire housing needs. “I want the organization to succeed in projects that will support the developmental sector and regular sector as much as we can and create more impact.”