Executive Director, HomeAid Northern Virginia | Founder, Seva Prison Yoga
Emerging Leader Nominee
1. Why do you believe CSR is an important part of your personal brand?
I’ve never regarded my volunteer work nor my work staffing and leading nonprofits as part of my “personal brand.” Rather, it is at the core of my identity. For so many of us in the nonprofit world, that is the case. Working in nonprofits enables us to express ourselves and be the change we want to see in the world. I truly feel that as Executive Director of HomeAid Northern Virginia, amid the business of day-to-day operations and board meetings I am blessed to be able to do what I love: helping rebuild lives. Similarly, my work leading Seva Prison Yoga - an organization I founded in 2016 to bring trauma-informed yoga to incarcerated individual in our local prison system – blends my passion for and connection to yoga with my desire to improve lives.
2. Do you believe that the CSR work you participate in should be affiliated with the work you/your company does?
I think this is a judgement call for individuals, organizations and companies to make depending on their missions and passions. Certainly, there is enough need in the world for either totally related – or totally disparate – CSR endeavors. For me personally, I regard my professional and philanthropic endeavors as highly intertwined; just as many of the challenges facing our society are intertwined.
As HomeAid Northern Virginia’s Executive Director, I am professionally and personally passionate about helping to solve homelessness by convening disparate groups – homeless shelter organizations with homebuilders – to build/renovate supportive housing facilities. Collaborative partnerships enable homebuilders to do what they do best (build!) and service providers to do what they do best (supportive programs!).
My personal work founding Seva Prison Yoga (SPY) is an extension of this interconnectedness. SPY brings the healing, stress-management properties of trauma-informed yoga to those incarcerated – the first and ONLY such program in our region. These may seem like disparate endeavors: building solutions to homelessness and bringing yoga to incarcerated adults. Yet I see these as intertwined: what can cause people to often end up homeless, and what can cause people to end up in jail is often due to trauma in childhood or as an adult.
In fact, in many cases, homelessness is intimately linked with the criminal justice system. Nearly 50,000 former-inmates/year enter shelters after exiting incarceration. Former inmates face barriers to finding housing and have a higher likelihood of becoming homeless. Seva Prison Yoga can provide incarcerated individuals with tools to deal with stress, anger, chronic pain and to heal from the inside out.
HANV and Seva Prison Yoga may seem disparate, but in their service and impact are surprisingly intertwined: helping people rebuild their lives and find stability through and after trauma. So I have personally connected my professional work and my personal CSR work, and find meaningful connections that unite them.
3. Do you believe contributing back to the community allows you to have a deeper connection with your clients/customers?
Certainly. My work directly connects me to the local community of businesses, to fellow nonprofits, to volunteers, and to vulnerable communities. I personally make a point to get out from behind my desk and connect with the communities we are aiming to serve at HomeAid Northern Virginia: the homeless and housing insecure in our region. My day to day business work leading HANV entails working with the shelter providers we are doing construction for (like Cornerstones, Second Story, Shelter House and more), and with the local home builders who perform the construction work. As I believe is the deeper connections and the personal connections that provide a richness to our work, I have made it priority to also connect in more direct, personal ways:
Timed to National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness week in November and heading into colder December temperatures, HANV partnered with SevaTruck to bring hot food, blankets and winter essentials directly to individuals living in “tent cities” in Woodbridge, Va. Myself and others from my team personally handed out items, chatted with the individuals who came and learned their stories.
This is an example of how - while our core focus is building and renovating homeless shelters - our work does not stop when construction is completed. We have developed avenues for more personal connections to the individuals and families who will be living in the properties we’ve worked on. We’ve partnered with real estate “staging companies” who have beautifully furnished the units with couches, beds, bedding, kitchen tables and art on the walls. We know we are providing not only a safe and a solidly built home, but also a warm and welcoming one that provides dignity.
As many arrive at a HomeAid-constructed housing property with little but the shirts on their back, we have launched a “Fill the Fridge” initiative to provide gift cards to local grocery stores, and “Welcome Home Baskets” with kitchen wares and toiletries to help them have the essentials they need. We sponsor a “Night at the Ballpark” for families in housing programs run by our shelter partners, so that families in transitional housing can go see a professional sporting event and enjoy quality family time, without worry of finances. These “priceless” family-time experiences that we are able to provide connect us to the community we serve in deeper ways.
Together, we build solutions and rebuild lives. Secure housing fosters stable employment as well as success in school. HANV’s completed 121 projects to date in the Northern Virginia region have served 112,000+ homeless individuals/families.
4. What are some events or causes that inspire you?
I believe in the practice of yoga and meditation and see in myself and in others the tremendous benefits in can offer in stress management, controlling anger, emotional intelligence and being present in your body, in the moment. Just as I founded Seva Prison Yoga here in Northern Virginia to bring the positive impacts of yoga to prison inmates, I am inspired by other organizations that bring yoga to other populations who can truly benefit. VETOGA, for example, is an Arlington based nonprofit which I sit on the board of, who brings the healing aspects of yoga and meditation to veterans, their families, and the larger military community nationwide. Six months ago, in collaboration with a local store, I started an initiative as part of SEVA’s work and now provide yoga mats to students in the yoga program who are released from incarceration - so that they may continue their practice beyond the bars and into their lives moving forward.
5. What advice would you give to individuals trying to find a cause in which to participate?
As Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” There are so many opportunities big and small to get involved. Here at HomeAid, we have an active internship program for college students. We are also thrilled to engage individuals and groups to take on a “Welcome Home Basket” or “Fill the Fridge” drive to support people who move into the units we are building/renovating or to help us out at one of our fundraising events.
More broadly, there are opportunities across every type of interest and expertise. Many local communities have specific volunteerism sites – like www.volunteerfairfax.org or www.volunteeralexandria.org – and many counties run local volunteer fairs where you have the chance to learn about local opportunities and ask questions.
Committed volunteers can make a difference to any organization. Whether you are directing your energies towards helping the homeless, to the environment, to animals, or wherever your passions guide you – volunteering always has an incredible impact and is always appreciated. And of course, I encourage readers out there to consider pursuing a fulfilling career in the nonprofit world!