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April 27, 2004 > Indo-Americans for Better Community's Charity Ball Raises $25,000 for BridgeWay Transitional Housing Program.

Indo-Americans for Better Community's Charity Ball Raises $25,000 for BridgeWay Transitional Housing Program.

by Reshma Yunus

Indo-Americans for Better Community (IndoABC), a local non-profit organization that provides community and humanitarian services, held a charity ball on April 10, 2004 to raise funds for Tri-City Homeless Coalition's BridgeWay East Transitional Housing Program. The goal of BridgeWay East is to build eighteen transitional housing units in Irvington for people who have graduated from basic shelter services. These units will incorporate a network of supportive services to empower individuals towards their goal of a stable life and more permanent housing. The event raised $25,000 towards the program and the check donation ceremony was the highlight of the evening.

Dr. Rakesh Sharma, Founding President of IndoABC said, "many charities founded by Indo-Americans fund projects in India; there is nothing wrong with that, but we believe that charity begins at home, and this is our home. Our goal is to make a difference in our neighborhoods where we can see and feel the impact of our contribution." Dr. Goney Sandhu, another pioneering Indo-American in Fremont, added that he and his family, like many first generation immigrants, had to work hard and struggle to integrate into American society. Dr. Sandhu said, "I am proud and profoundly grateful to be in a position to help other families transform themselves." Dr. Sandhu, also a speaker at the event, raised $10,000 towards the BridgeWay project.

The event was a fun-filled evening of entertainment, dancing and rousing speeches by many notables such as keynote speaker California State Treasurer Phil Angelides. Moses Tagioff, MD, the first Indo-American neurosurgeon in the Tri-City area, served as Master of Ceremonies. Dr. Tagioff set the tone for the evening by stating, "Where there is a human being, there is a chance for kindness." Dr. Tagioff reflected on his childhood in India when his family became homeless and timely aid by a Jewish fund allowed him to progress in life. He commented that the Tri-City Homeless Coalition ("TCHC") has done the same for many people. "It gives a chance for a new beginning and another chance for life."

Assemblyman John Dutra, who attended the event, stressed the importance and need for organizations such as TCHC and people like Rakesh and Ranjana Sharma to provide a helping hand for people along the sometimes difficult journey of life. Dutra recalled his own humble beginnings when his family, after the death of his father, became destitute and dependent on welfare. He said that many people and organizations helped his family to rise above difficult circumstances. "We could not have done it alone. Nobody is successful without help from people.... mentors... along the way."

Keynote speaker Phil Angelides began his speech by commenting on IndoABC's logo - a reflection of how the Indo-American community has brought talent and "energy halfway around the world to our country, fully embracing the California American dream." Mr. Angelides continued, "...a community for whom I have so much respect, you should be proud of all Indo-Americans have brought to our society. You are engineers, you are physicians, entrepreneurs, you are leaders in global technology, and you are proving here that you are also civic leaders." He continued, "You could not have picked a more worthy organization to help. All the folks at Tri-City Homeless Coalition remind us that the mark of any civilized society is how we give hope and opportunity and a hand up to those most in need."

Mr. Angelides discussed the problems of the State of California. "We have one in five children in poverty, with a median income of $14,000 a year. How can you support a family on [an annual income of] $14,000 a year?" "Seven million Californians have no health insurance. A State of 36 million, the 6th largest economy in the world, yet 300,000 of its citizens are facing homelessness. Last year, in San Francisco alone, 170 people died homeless on the streets," he said.

Mr. Angelides quoted Aristotle who said that the greatest threat to democracy is poverty. Mr. Angelides said that Californians must once again believe in what we can be and reminded all that past dynamism was built on a foundation of smart public investments. He exhorted citizens to use their collective wealth to invest in the future.
Louis Chicoine, executive director of TCHC, spoke at length with TCV about the BridgeWay Project and the status of homelessness in the Tri-City Area. Mr. Chicoine stated that to pay the current market rate for housing in the Bay Area, a person needs to earn $27 per hour. Most low skill jobs only pay a minimum wage causing nearly 1,200 people in Fremont alone, to be homeless. Mr. Chicoine compared the monthly cost of a standard 2 bedroom apartment, ranging from $850-$1150, with monthly wages for low and unskilled workers of $737 - 1,040. Rent expense accounted for as much as 50 -90% of total income for many thousands of local families in the Tri-City area, he said.

The Tri-City Homeless Coalition, according to Chicoine, has been successful in helping many individuals and families find permanent housing, living productive lives by providing not just shelter but the ability to stand on their own feet. The organization operates on a philosophy of a "continuum of care" approach including social services that address barriers to maintaining permanent housing, such as substance abuse, emotional instability and life skills.

"Monica," one of the many people TCHC has helped, told her story at the ball. In the late 1990's, Monica and her four daughters were homeless despite working at two jobs - as a receptionist and as a cashier. She simply could not afford rent, childcare and the other necessities of life such as food and clothing. Monica applied to all the local shelters and finally got into TCHC. "They did so much for us; they provided parenting classes, job search help and day care. They helped us pull our life back together, "she said. "We got a chance for a new beginning. I now have a better job as a mortgage loan processor and live in an affordable apartment unit. I thank God everyday that he sent us there."

Dr. Sharma explained that the Tri-City Homeless Coalition (TCHC) was selected to receive the funds as it has a complete program integrating intervention as well as prevention components. "We have set the date for next year's event, March 12, 2004. We will keep TCHC in mind, but will also consider other charities as well." Dr. Sharma stated that this year's $25,000 will be matched by two local foundations, Fremont Bank Foundation and Sobrato Family Foundation. Thus, the total rose doubled to $50,000. Dr. Rakesh Sharma's future plans include challenging Bollywood stars from India's film industry to help Indo-Americans raise funds for local charities in the United States.

For more information about IndoABC or the Tri-City Homeless Coalition:

Indo-Americans for Better Community
707 Pilgrim Loop
Fremont, CA 94539
Fax: 510-657-1614

Tri-City Homeless Coalition
40849 Fremont Blvd., Fremont, CA 94538
Phone: 510-657-7409

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