It’s that wonderful time of year when Waterloo Region starts to glisten and glimmer with the holiday season.

Your calendar fills with parties. You buy ugly Christmas sweaters. You shop for family and friends. You stress about finding that perfect gift. It always seems to end up being a lot about you, right?

Well, over the last couple of weeks, three great holiday events with a festive focus landed on my desk, but something made them stand out from the many other events I hear about weekly. Planned by people in the tech community, these events all aim to give back while celebrating the season.

I decided to chat with their organizers to see why CEOs were taking the time out of their schedules to plan parties.

First up is Armen Bakirtzian, co-founder and CEO of Intellijoint Surgical Inc., who is throwing his second annual K-W Entrepreneur Holiday Party this Friday, Nov. 28 at the Tannery Event Centre. I chatted with Bakirtzian’s fiancé who’s helping to organize the event. Garod Kalaydjian says the event started as a way to spend time with friends after Intellijoint moved out of the Accelerator Centre.

“We wanted to get together with the friends who’d become our family,” Kalaydjian said. “Even though we have a Waterloo-based office, we wanted to do something bigger.”

It was important that giving back was part of the “winter white” themed party. While the food, bar, photo booth and DJ may be a draw for attendees, the silent auction is one of Kalaydjian’s favourite parts.

“The prizes that have been donated this year have been terrific,” Kalaydjian said. “And watching people get competitive trying to win, knowing that the money is going to a good cause, is just great. People are so generous.”

All proceeds will support the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, a cause close to the couple’s hearts.

“When I think of the holidays I think of food and family and being together,” Kalaydjian said.

Tickets for the event are still available online. And yes, attendees are encouraged to dress in shades of white.

For Christine Bird, founder of the K-W Poker Chicks club and co-founder of Plum, the scheduled December tournament needed to be a little less self-serving.

“If you come out to poker tournaments you probably have some expendable income,” Bird said. “A lot of people don’t. [At the monthly tournament] you have the chance to win throughout the year. We wanted to give back this month.”

Bird admits she originally saw the December poker game turning into more of a social where partners and spouses were invited, and poker may not have been played.

She presented that option, plus the option of playing in a charity tournament, to the club players. Attendees were unanimous that they wanted to donate their buy-in instead of playing to win the money for themselves. The tournament winners, Bird noted, will decide which local charities receive the money.

“Thanks to sponsors like Communitech, Quarry and Cushman & Wakefield, we’re able to host a party, but also put all of our regular ticket costs towards helping local charities,” she said.

The women-only tournament on Thursday, Dec. 11 will be hosted at Quarry Integrated Communications in St. Jacobs. Food and drinks will be provided, as will lessons on how to play the game.

Meanwhile, Magnet Forensics has taken a more global perspective on the holiday season. Company founder and CTO Jad Saliba is running a bowling fundraiser to support Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a global non-profit that rescues children from human trafficking and sex slavery.

It uses computer technology and a team of former CIA and security people, like Saliba – a former Waterloo Region police officer – to go on rescue missions around the world. Saliba went with OUR on a rescue mission this past August in the Dominican Republic, where he helped rescue 26 children and arrest seven people.

Now, he and Magnet Forensics want to raise the $25,000 required to fund one rescue mission.

“[At Magnet Forensics] our mission is to impact people’s lives by finding the truth and empowering others to make a difference,” Saliba said. “We are especially committed to and passionate about assisting with cases related to child exploitation.”

That Saliba would become passionate about OUR was no surprise based on his past career in law enforcement.

To help raise money, Saliba is calling on local companies to register a team for a bowling tournament on Monday, Dec. 16 at Bingemans Kingpin Bowlounge.

All these events have one thing in common: the belief that the holiday season is about more than just indulging ourselves, and is best celebrated with the whole community in mind.


Not quite ready for the festive specials to begin? I see and hear that… this Friday, Nov. 28 from 4-9 p.m. and Saturday, Nov 29.  From 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Globe Studios at 141 Whitney Pl. in Kitchener is holding an art show and open house featuring more than 20 artists-in-residence and guest artists… on Monday, Dec. 1 you can head up to the REAP Felt Lab in the Quarry building at 1440 King St. N. in St. Jacobs for a lecture on virtual reality called “Your virtual self – bringing your body into VR.” … And finally, next Thursday, Dec. 6, Canada’s Technology Triangle will host its annual international reception and dinner. The evening starts at 5 p.m. at Bingemans at 425 Bingemans Drive in Kitchener. Former news anchor Lloyd Robertson, the keynote speaker, will talk about building and living the Canadian brand.