Yahya Hashmi is a people person, who loves the outdoors and reading and has political aspirations. With a background in office administration and youth counselling the 33-year-old not only works at Reena but helps advocate for Reena at every opportunity. Yahya Hashmi also has stage four chronic kidney disease and is a resident of The Sandy Keshen Reena Residence.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Yahya moved to Canada with his family in 2006 for medical treatment. In between treatments, Yahya spent his time volunteering at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and in several nursing homes. In 2015 he came to live at Reena. Three weeks after they settled him, Yahya’s parents returned to live in Pakistan. “Three weeks after being here at Reena, they saw what it was all about, and I saw what it was all about,” says Yahya. He had lived in several different facilities, but none were like Reena. The difference, says Yahya, is the staff. “The staff at Reena take the time to ask what is your day like? What is your life like? Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling happy? What do you want? Other places they don’t do that. And not just your primary staff…everybody.”
Shortly after moving into Reena, Yahya began to get involved in the Reena community. “That’s when my interest started with not just living here, but also doing things.” Yahya found he had a passion for working with people and decided to pursue an education in office administration at Centennial College. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the course due to health issues. “Even though I couldn’t complete it, I still learned a lot. You don’t have to have a piece of paper in your hand to show what you did. The amount of experience I have makes me confident,” says Yahya. “For me I know what I did in my life is all because of experience. It’s all because of trial and error because I went back, I fought hard, I made mistakes, I corrected them and moved forward and that’s what my experience is. Living in Reena, living with my parents, doing all that. That’s why I don’t get upset that I didn’t go forward with my studies. What I did to make myself happy, is what I did.”
Yahya got hired in 2018 as a part time receptionist with Reena. “I love it! I just like sitting at the desk, monitoring the whole lobby area, and helping around.” He takes his staff role very seriously and has a reputation for getting things done. “I don’t see this as just a living place for me, I try to help everybody here. I help staff, I help individuals.” Yahya recently received his five-year certificate.
Yahya also liked seeing the advocacy role Reena takes and started joining Reena committees. He asked Gary Gladstone, Reena’s Lead Stakeholder Relations, where else he could start to get involved and help. Yahya says Gary was happy to oblige along with Bryan Keshen. They saw his interest and told him, “Yahya, if you like what you like, get out there, we can help you.” Since then, Yahya has spoken at Queens Park and traveled to Ottawa to speak on Parliament Hill advocating for the sector. “I consider myself as a spokesperson for Reena,” says Yahya. Gary Gladstone agrees, “Yahya is a great advocate for housing and supports has been invaluable in many meetings in the GTA and Ottawa.” Yahya says he is always keeping track of what is going on in Reena through the website and calling on Bryan or Gary to let them know where he wants to get involved.
As a practicing Muslim, Yahya says being a part of a Jewish agency made him more curious about Judaism. “I live in a Jewish agency; I am not just going to ignore it. I am going to put myself into their shoes and learn what it’s all about. I have a Jewish roommate. I have learned so much through him. I see what he does, and I’m always asking him questions. I want to learn. I have celebrated every Jewish tradition with Josh, and I am proud of that.” Yahya has also visited Israel as part of an inclusive trip.
As for Yahya’s future political aspirations, he says he can see himself as a counsellor at Queens Park. He sees a society where diverse cultures respect each other and live in peace and harmony. Despite recent health battles, Yahya is determined to make his dream a reality, “Small steps will take me there,” he says. In the meantime, Yahya continues working at the reception desk at the Sandy Keshen Residence and his work advocating and speaking on behalf of Reena to create a better, more inclusive world.