“You can volunteer to help others, but you can also do it for your own soul,” reflected Rupal Thanawala. Nearly 20 years ago, Thanawala arrived in the U.S. with her husband, two-year-old son and no extended family to rely upon for assistance in navigating life in a foreign country. In those initial years, her newly discovered community, including several United Way resources, became her extended family. “This is my ‘family’ so I need to do what they need,” she explained when asked about the meaning of community.
From a young age, Thanawala witnessed her parents’ support of their Indian community. Food was scarce and poverty rates were high, yet her mother was steadfast in her effort to help those less fortunate each day. She exemplified the family values of sharing what you have. Once in the U.S., Thanawala found her United Way community provided the next opportunity to witness service in action. She and her husband began volunteering, often with children in tow. “We are all capable of giving. Sometimes it’s different depending on what’s going on in your life. If you do it as a family, it’s fun and your children will come to thank you.” In this manner, they continued to instill a sense of community within their family, further exemplified by the family’s participation in United Way’s “New U” campaign to promote family giving.
“Everyone can be a hero. A hero, to me, is a normal person ready to step up and take the challenge to make a difference,” she said. Thanawala has risen to the challenge through her leadership efforts in the areas of diversity and inclusion, STEM programs, health and technology. Whether through her dedication to reinvigorating events to attract diverse audiences, her efforts to champion diversity of thought, her service on multiple boards of directors or her mentorship to underprivileged youth, she’s clearly a catalyst for connecting community with United Way.
“So many children in our community don’t deserve the life they have. My wish for the future of our community is for every child to have an equal opportunity to grow up in a healthy and happy environment.” Given Thanawala’s drive to cultivate respect for all and diversity of thought, she’s on her way to making her wish a reality for Central Indiana children.