JFS Perspectives

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Sheela Balaji: Volunteer Extraordinaire

Sheela Balaji: Volunteer Extraordinaire

If you spend five minutes with Sheela Balaji, her happiness, zest for life, and passion for helping others will rub off on you. Volunteering is an integral part of her identity, and she lights up when she talks about the myriad ways she gives back to the community. And lucky for us, JFS is one of the recipients of her kindness.

Sheela, the supervisor of quality assurance for DaVita’s IT department, learned about JFS through her company’s weekly newsletter. “DaVita is extremely community-oriented,” explains Sheela. “Our corporate culture is ‘community first, company second,’ which is put into action with monthly paid volunteer days and 20 other ways teammates are encouraged to get involved.”

Christine Gillow, JFS Volunteer Program manager, discovered DaVita’s commitment to social responsibility when she was researching companies to connect with for group volunteer opportunities in 2018. Christine contacted DaVita’s corporate social responsibility manager and was invited to provide information for a committee review. The committee’s feedback was very positive, and JFS’s volunteer opportunities were selected to be promoted by DaVita.

Sheela Balaji at DaVitaWhile Sheela was perusing that company newsletter, the Lunchbox Express summer volunteer opportunity caught her eye. She contacted Christine to learn more and signed up six members of her team for a day of riding the school bus to distribute lunches and books to kids in need. Another group from DaVita also signed up that summer.

“I was immediately impressed with how this program is run; it’s not just handing out food and sending kids on their way,” says Sheela. “It is very respectful and discreet. The driver took a lot of care to set out a tablecloth so families could enjoy a picnic and read books together, which created a nice experience for both the families and volunteers. My team and I enjoyed talking and reading with the kids while they ate.” She also noticed how nutritional the lunches were and commented, “It’s food I would eat and feed my family.”

Sheela and her team loved the experience so much, they signed up again the next summer. She was struck by the amount of passion and commitment the JFS employees have. “One day it rained, and the driver was disappointed and worried about the kids missing their lunch. It was eye-opening to see that there’s a real need in the community for these summer lunch programs. I wouldn’t have known there was poverty in the areas I went to if I was just driving by. Kids count on free lunches during the school year and JFS is bridging the gap during the summer.”

Sheela wanted to learn more about JFS and attended our Celebrate JFS event last June. “I was so impressed with the agency, the impact, and the longevity and passion of the staff. I met such great volunteers and Board members who were selflessly giving. It inspired me to want to learn more about JFS and get further involved.” After chatting at the event, she and Christine are planning to discuss year-round volunteer opportunities for Sheela’s team at DaVita as well as ways she can volunteer with her husband. As a team-building activity and way to serve the community, Sheela and her team volunteer quarterly with a variety of organizations. But that’s merely a small portion of the time she spends helping the community—she and her husband volunteer more than 200 hours a year!

Originally from India, Sheela was director of an organization that empowered women through education. When she moved to Colorado in 1996 for her husband’s job, she quickly began volunteering as a way to meet people before she chose to go back to school for IT. She has served so many community organizations, including hospitals, mentoring groups, homeless shelters, and churches. She recently went on a 10-day mission trip to Africa through a nonprofit health organization run by DaVita.

“I am still friends with people I met volunteering 23 years ago and I am where I am today because of all the community work I do. I’ve learned that all you need is a simple smile to make someone’s day. I know I can’t help everybody, but I can help some by giving my compassion and time.”