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The generosity of one AAHOA member helped numerous families when a tragedy struck last April in Irving, Texas.
By Kate Viana
On the evening of April 8, 2016, dozens of Irving, Texas, residents were left homeless after a massive blaze destroyed about 40 units in Jefferson Park Apartments. When the Irving Fire Department finally extinguished the flames, all that remained of so many homes was rubble and still-smoldering ash.
Local organizations leapt into action. Irving-area Red Cross officials quickly provided clothing, toiletries and groceries to the bereft, but the question of housing remained. Temporary accommodations were found for most of the displaced residents, but more than 30 still had nowhere to go.
When AAHOA Chairman Bruce Patel (also an Irving resident) learned of the fire, he began reaching out to local AAHOA members for help. One of those members was Bharat Vashi.
“[The fire] was big news, locally,” Vashi said in an interview. “People lost everything. They were basically out on the street.” When Chairman Patel got in touch, Vashi had been trying for days to identify the head of relief efforts and offer assistance.
“Bruce called me and said, ‘There are a number of families [still]in need of accommodations, would you be interested in helping?’”, Vashi recalled. “I told him, ‘Absolutely.’”
Vashi was put in touch with a coordinating committee tasked with placing families in temporary housing. Within 48 hours, three displaced families – two of them with young children – were resting comfortably in rooms at Vashi’s Holiday Inn Express, where they remained until April 30.
Vashi seemed surprised to be contacted for an interview. A mild-mannered, unassuming family man, he saw nothing remarkable about his response to the devastating events that left so many homeless.
“If we can help, we will,” Vashi said simply. “It’s a natural instinct to want to help when there’s a tragedy. These people had no roof over their heads. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to do something to improve their situation.”
Vashi, a Gujarat native, came to the United States as a university student in the mid-1980s. After finishing his education, Vashi joined the American workforce, but didn’t get actively involved in hospitality until relatively recently.
“I got into the hotel business about 15 years ago,” Vashi reflected. “I joined AAHOA in 2000,” and the rest is history. He owns two hotels – a Holiday Inn Express and the Hotel Las Colinas, which he is currently upgrading to the Holiday Inn Las Colinas – both in Irving. A devoted husband and father of one (a son), Vashi could easily imagine the fear and anxiety the displaced families were feeling. He said it never occurred to him not to help.
“You have to be empathetic,” he said firmly. “In a situation like this, there must be no hesitation [to offer help].”
Vashi’s belief in the moral necessity of helping others is perfectly aligned with both AAHOA’s foundational values and one of its official ‘pillars’ – community service, or seva (Sanskrit for “selfless service”). AAHOA members have a long, rich history of sharing the fruits of their considerable success with their respective communities. Indeed, for the vast majority of members, giving back is inextricably bound to the idea of real success.
For decades, AAHOA has strongly encouraged the donation of funds and room nights both to families and individuals in need and to worthy causes. Last year, for example, four AAHOA members organized a trip to Nepal where they distributed necessities to the locals whose homes had been demolished by the April earthquake and began the construction of a brand-new school. More recently, in April, AAHOA members in the Houston area donated dozens of room nights to displaced residents and tens of thousands of dollars to flood-relief efforts.
“I am always proud of our members for giving so generously, but never surprised,” Chairman Patel said. “The men and women of AAHOA are inexorably committed to their families, neighbors and communities.”
Since that terrible night in April, virtually all of the affected families have been placed in suitable housing and begun to rebuild their lives. The smoke and rubble are gone, and – thanks to the generosity of AAHOA members like Bharat Vashi – so too is the ghastly specter of homelessness. ■
Thanks to the following AAHOA members who also generously provided hotel rooms for the apartment-fire victims:
Suresh (Sam) Patel; Kamal (Ken) Patel; Hasmukhbhai (Hash) Patel; and Biran Patel.