Andy Bhatti has come a long way from a $1,000 a day heroin habit and a life of crime. In fact, the Langley resident has completely turned his life around, has been clean for seven years and is in the thick of organizing the Men of Hope poker tournament to raise funds for male survivors of sexual abuse.
The tournament is set for this Saturday, April 6 at the Aldergrove Legion. The tournament has nearly sold out, with several celebrity players scheduled to play, including Vancouver Canucks alumnus Gino Odjick and Chicago Blackhawks alumnus Steve Passmore. Players can put a bounty on their heads to knock them out and receive a signed plaque for their efforts, said Bhatti.
Among the celebrities confirmed to be there are Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower and John Craighead, along with TV stars Graham Wardle of Heartland and Nathaniel Arcand of North of 60 and Heartland. There is also going to be a band playing and the Canucks game will be on.
Bhatti has been working hard to get everything organized, including getting sponsors and accumulating an impressive list of door prizes, raffle and auction items including flights to anywhere in North America, a customized eight-person poker table, golf, signed guitars and much more.
Shoppers Drug Mart gave a large number of gift baskets.
“It’s been amazing how much support I’ve received,” he said.
Langley residents don’t have to play in the tournament to be a part of the event.
For a $10 donation, doors will open to the public from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. for everyone to meet the players and get signed pictures and autographs.
The public can also put their name in for prizes and raffle draws, of which there are many.
Bhatti’s story of being sexually abused by a Big Brother he was paired up with as a 10-year-old boy was featured in The Times in January.
“Since the article came out, random people have been donating to the cause. It’s been really good,” he said.
Bhatti decided to come forward with his story, no matter how difficult, because he wants to bring awareness and get people talking about male sexual abuse, a crime that is happening to more than one in five boys in Canada, he said.
Bhatti was sexually abused for four years by his then-Big Brother, who was in his late 20s. The abuse turned the once innocent little boy into an angry young man who dropped out of sports, failed all his classes, got into fights and was smoking pot by age 11. He was a full-blown heroin addict by 16.
One of his many mug shots shows Bhatti at the age of 20, looking 40, with drug scabs. At the time, he weighed 90 pounds.
He had spent as much time inside a jail cell as out. In his own words, he had become “a monster.”
He told no one of the sexual abuse. He carried on a life of crime and addiction until he was 27 when the police came knocking on his door — not to arrest him but to ask him if he, too, had been abused by the man who ruined his life. His molester had gone on to sexually abuse two more young boys.
In 2008, Joseph Douglas Baker pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexually assaulting and inviting sexual touching involving three children under the age of 14. Baker served his time and is out of jail now.
“I wonder what I could have become if I had never met him,” said Bhatti.
So it has become Bhatti’s mission to help the society that helped him so much and also to get people talking openly about sexual abuse.
Bhatti isn’t stopping here. He is cycling from Vernon, where the two other boys were abused, to Vancouver in July to raise additional funds and awareness.
All the proceeds from the tournament and any money donated will go to the B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse which offers group therapy sessions, counselling and a network of support. The society is severely underfunded.
Donations via cheques can also be made to the B.C. Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse or go to any VanCity where an account has been set up as well.
Call Andy for more information at 604-309-1573 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. or check out the Men of Hope Facebook page.