"My caregiver, not ladylove": Turfed leader of Vancouver migrant group Helping House speaks out

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      Tomas Avendano Sr. is turning 91 next January.

      Most people his age are enjoying a quiet life in retirement.

      This is not the case for the well-known figure in the Filipino community.

      Until July 31 this year, Avendano was the president and CEO of the Multicultural Helping House Society.

      Often referred to either as Helping House or MHHS, it’s a Vancouver-based nonprofit and charity established by the ethnic community to support immigrants and temporary foreign workers.

      Avendano’s departure from the board of the organization is another chapter in the tumultuous story of the association.

      In the lead-up to a board election last year, an anonymous group calling itself the Concerned Friends of Helping House published online allegations of conflicts of interest, financial mismanagement, and inappropriate business activities in the organization.

      A slate challenged Avendano and his chosen candidates, but was roundly beaten in the ballot box.

      Allegations of impropriety continued to buffet the organization, leading to the resignation of Avendano as well as two members of his family, who were also on the board.

      “I’m ready to tell the truth, just the truth,” Avendano told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview in mixed Tagalog and English.

      Avendano spoke a day after a media conference was held on August 18 at the constituency office of Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore by critics of the former leader.

      In the said press conference, it was alleged that caregivers seeking services from Helping House were exploited. How? By having them buy expensive insurance policies sold by financial agent Norilyn Delos Reyes, a scheme allegedly backed by Avendano.

      In the interview, Avendano said that these were not insurance policies, but rather, retirement plans.

      Avendano denied he was involved in the transactions.

      It is often talked about in the community that Delos Reyes is personally close to Avendano, and he was eager to answer the question of whether the woman is his paramour.

      “I’ll answer you on that point,” an amused Avendano said.

      According to Avendano, Delos Reyes started as his caregiver and continues to assist him in his needs as an elderly person. She is not a paramour.

      “Doesn’t the community understand? I’m 91 and I need someone to be on my side,” Avendano said. “I’m afraid if there’s no hand I can hold onto. Don’t I have the right to get a person who can help me? Why do they make these accusations against me? It’s shameful.”

      According to Avendano, Delos Reyes drives him around, and that’s because he no longer has a driver’s licence.

      Susmaryosep! Those people do not seem to respect me. Can you tell that to your dad?” Avendano said, laughing. (Susmaryosep is a Filipino expression signifying either anger, disbelief, or frustration; it’s a contraction of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.)

      Avendano’s wife died last year.

      According to Avendano, Delos Reyes and some of her relatives stay at his East Vancouver house, and they help each other take care of him.

      “Who’s going to cook for me here? Who’s going to look after me? I don’t have my children here,” Avendano said.

      Regarding other issues, Avendano maintained that although he was president and CEO of Helping House, there were other people who were in charge of its financial management.

      “I have nothing to do with it,” he said.

      According to Avendano, he and two of his relatives stepped down from the board to calm the situation.

      “That was the advice of our [Helping House] lawyer. That in order to pacify things, we should leave, which was also wrong advice, I think,” Avendano said in hindsight. “We have a constitution to follow, isn’t it?”

      Also on the board were his son Benedicto, and Avendano’s brother Demetrio.

      Avendano noted that they work as volunteers in the board, “more of a labour of love”.

      “If you do not want your love, then step out,” he said.

      Avendano warned that the controversies battering Helping House are not good for the Filipino community.

      He also warned that the community could lose the nonprofit to “whites”.

      “This is not beneficial for us because white people do not understand this,” Avendano said.

      Although Avendano is no longer on the board of Helping House, the former president and CEO is still very much around. He remains a member of the organization.

      Avendano also continues to head the MHHS Charitable Foundation, which owns the land and building of Helping House. The nonprofit pays rent to the foundation.

      “Why should I resign from the foundation?” he asked. “Is that part of this thing? The foundation is a different entity.”

      A search on the Canada Revenue Agency website did not display up-to-date records from the said charitable foundation.

      Avendano also continues to head a financial co-operative by and for caregivers that have either current or previous association with Helping House.

      “Multicultural [Helping House Society] doesn’t have anything to do with the cooperative,” he said. “They may also want to evict me from my own house.”

      Avendano was the founding president of the Filipino-Canadian Support Services Society, which was established in 1996. The organization renamed as the Multicultural Helping House Society in 2001.

      Helping House will hold its annual general meeting on Friday (August 23). The event will be held at the nonprofit’s offices at 4802 Fraser Street, starting at 1 p.m.