Charitable Choices: Pravena Udayakumar of SAAAC Autism Centre

SAAAC Autism Centre in Toronto is a non-profit organization that supports and empowers neurodiverse individuals. We spoke with Pravena Udayakumar, Goodness Gift Program Manager, to find out more about them.

SAAAC Autism Centre

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

SAAAC Autism Centre is a non-profit organization catered to support and empower neurodiverse individuals. Through the Goodness Gift program, we work to train and employ young adults with exceptionalities, who have little access to support after they are out of school.

They are engaged in all aspects of the Goodness Gift team – from order processing to inventory management to the packaging and delivery of goods. The skills and confidence they earn, helps them increase their independence and participation in the community.

What problem does it aim to solve?

The Goodness Gift program at SAAAC Autism centre aims to target the high rates of unemployment and high levels of mental health challenges for individuals with exceptionalities.

The representation of neurodiverse individuals in most working environments is non-existent, due to the poor education most industry professionals have on neurodiverse individuals and how to support their working careers. Goodness Gift aims to provide individuals with not only working experience but the skill sets that will set them up for success in any industry of their choosing.

When did you start/join it?

I started volunteering at SAAAC Autism Center in May 2018 and started working with Goodness Gift in September 2021.

What made you want to get involved?

I started my journey at this organization because I resonated very much with our organization’s mission of supporting and empowering our community especially those who are challenged by certain barriers, and it was the perfect position that aligned with my passion for helping others.

What was the situation like when you started?

When I first started, Goodness Gift was not operating at the scale it is today. In 2015 we had employed 2 individuals and were creating gift baskets instead of the much bigger boxes we make today.

How has it changed since?

In 2020, we have managed to quadruple the number of individuals we employ to 8 full-time clients and this year we have surpassed 20 thanks to the support of our community. Currently, Goodness Gift employs 22 individuals that have various neurodiverse needs. We have also grown in terms of our operations and space as we have opened another location to house Goodness Gift services exclusively.

What more needs to be done?

Our revolution is still going, and we are still growing stronger and stronger. We hope to be able to provide even more individuals with the opportunities we have to offer. We also hope to get the word out about our program, establish more connections and grow our family so we create a greater social impact.

How can our readers help?

Currently, we are trying to sell as many boxes as we can to help raise the funds needed to funnel back into our program and keep providing our clients with the employment opportunities they need. Goodness Gift boxes can be purchased through our website ranging from $30 to $175. We would also really appreciate it if you could check out our social media, share our posts and spread the word!

Where can we follow you?

You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram or check us out on our website.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Elpida Autism Foundation is a local charity that works to raise awareness and acceptance of, raise funds for research and provides support for individuals on the spectrum. The similarity in our organizational missions and the goals of this charity make it one worth highlighting.