The first time Tony Liu set foot in Our Place Society, he had a feeling it wouldn’t be his last.
The St. Michael’s University student was on a class field trip in Grade 7 to Our Place, where he volunteered to help with meal prep such as peeling potatoes and preparing other ingredients for one of the thousands of meals the society serves annually.
It was at the society, seeing the pain on people’s faces and how quickly their mood changed once they were given a warm meal, where Liu decided he wanted to give back.
“When you volunteer there, you can see visibly on people’s faces the pain and stuff that they’ve gone through. When you start to engage with them, most of them are nice and polite and they have their own stories of why they’re in the situation that they’re in,” said the now 15-year-old.
“That’s one of the main things that I remember was how good it felt to do something for someone and for them to have a genuine appreciation . . . it’s really an amazing feeling to have.”
Since then, Liu has continued to volunteer at Our Place, handing out hot chocolate to patrons every other week.
Most recently, Liu, along with Oak Bay High School student Noah Bettauer, organized a junior tennis tournament to raise funds for the society last weekend.
Liu and Bettauer, who are a part of the high performance junior tennis team that practices out of Central Saanich, have played together for years and often travel to the Mainland to participate in tournaments. However, they found there was a lack of tournaments for junior players in Victoria — something they hoped to change.
Using their connections with tennis coaches and other players, they got the word out about the tournament and on the weekend, 19 players (aged 18 years and under) from around Greater Victoria came together for the two-day tournament. In total, Liu and Bettauer helped raise just over $400 for Our Place.
“It was a huge success. We got a lot more people and a bunch of people that we didn’t know,” Liu said, adding it was a learning experience organizing the tournament schedule from start to finish.
Grant McKenzie with Our Place said more young people are becoming aware of homelessness in the city due to increased awareness by their parents and schools.
“It’s always great when you see young people getting engaged in social activism and wanting to make a difference,” he said, adding the money will either go towards the meal program or will be used to purchase socks and underwear to distribute in the winter months.
“Even when we opened My Place on Yates Street, the students that came over and wanted to participate, they wanted to meet the people who were in there and make a difference. Not only is it exciting to see, but it shows how kids want to be engaged in their local community.”
The teenagers hope to put on a similar junior tennis tournament in the future as well.