How Did I Get Here?
If you’re a subscriber to our blog you’ve probably been wondering why hasn’t there been a posting? It’s simple. This post is from me, Sheryl Rajbhandari, the founder and executive director of Heartfelt Tidbits.
For 19 days writing this blog post has been on the top of my “to do” list yet it never had the black line marked through it. I would be lying if I said I just didn’t know what to say. If you know me, you know that I never have a shortage of stories to share. I have struggled a bit with where to begin but I solved that while brushing my teeth this morning.
So how did I found and become an executive director of Heartfelt Tidbits? I believe it was always meant to be. As a young girl I would travel downtown and was fascinated with the homeless. I wanted to understand who were they, where they lived and share their brown bag lunches. When I left for college my fascination of people that were different than me grew. I lived in an international dorm. I was the girl that played the 30-question game with everyone I met. Not to be nosy, but because I was amazed at how my dorm mates left their safety net and traveled alone on an airplane to a foreign country to go to school. My mind wondered what would entice someone to do this. Four years later while meeting with my advisor to make sure I had what I needed to graduate with my computer science degree, she told me that while she loved having me as a student she just couldn’t picture me sitting at a computer and programming for a living. If I saw her today I would let her know she was correct. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my corporate life in computer science. I was successful, I climbed the ladder and rose to the role I had dreamt of – but deep down I was always searching for more.
While working, traveling and raising 3 kids, I would come home and volunteer for this and that. I would complain that I just hadn’t found my volunteer niche. I loved everything that I did but I hadn’t had that “ah hah” moment. Then in 2008 I intercepted an email to my husband asking for an interpreter for a Nepali refugee to help them prepare for a driving test. I responded even though I didn’t speak Nepali and the email was sent to my husband, who does speak Nepali, and not to me.
My “ah ha” Moment
After that initial call with a wonderful person, Cindy Grieme, a former social worker at Catholic Charities, I was hooked. I agreed to meet the first family, known as the Indra Tamang family. We met and I was engrossed with their story of traveling with little to eat for days, carrying their children on their backs just to reach safety. Then they shared that they had spent 20 years in a refugee camp waiting to be resettled. I thought 20 years – who would wait for 20 years? I couldn’t. I asked them what was going to happen now. They said, “We were hoping you would know.” This was my “ah hah” moment. They presented me with a challenge. I wanted to learn more about them, make their life here the very best and that’s how it began. What Cindy forgot to tell me is that thousands of people from Bhutan would arrive in Cincinnati in the months and years to come, and they all had a unique and fascinating story to tell.
Fastforward to 2016 and what does my life and Heartfelt Tidbits look like? Gone is the corporate job but you wouldn’t notice that unless I told you. My days begin early and end late just as they did before. The difference is the work and Heartfelt Tidbits. While working in the corporate world I dreamt of how I would treat employees if I owned a company. So my nonprofit became my company and my employees became the countless volunteers that lend a hand to make it successful.
“I came up with the name because I thought even if I gave someone a tidbit of my time it would be better than nothing.”
The volunteers I’ve met over the years have been as interesting and inspirational as the refugees and immigrants. I’ve worked alongside a bank president, a former CEO who left his job to form a nonprofit and adopt an entire family of kids when his others became adults, restaurant owners, artists, designers, parents, pastors, writers, singers, an airline pilot, engineers, CFO’s, welders, mechanics, doctors, and the list just goes on and on. Each of their stories is fascinating and what brought them to want to assist refugees and immigrants is as unique. In future blog posts you’ll have an opportunity to learn more about their journeys and path that led them to Heartfelt Tidbits.
What Does it Look Like Today?
What does Heartfelt Tidbits look like today? I can honestly say that it’s very different than I imagined. When I decided to help the first family I thought it was something I would do for a couple of years, the plight of refugees would end and this would end my volunteer role. Wrong. Cincinnati is now home to 12,000 refugees just from Bhutan. That number is hard to track because it grows daily. Many of them have resettled from other cities. There are also refugees that come from Iraq, Iran, Mali, Somalia, Russia, Senegal, Burma, Ethiopia, and Congo… Some are resettled here directly but many move from other cities to join family members. Add to this the services we provide to the immigrant population, those who come without a refugee status and are seeking political asylum or just trying to survive, and our days are full. Six days a week there is a program, meeting or event happening somewhere in the city that Heartfelt Tidbits is a part of.
What does it mean to be the executive director? It basically means that just like in a game of tag, “you’re it.” Sometimes my day begins at 8 am in a meeting for coffee, by 10 I may be teaching an English class, at 1 you might find me visiting a patient in the hospital or assisting someone with job placement, then from 3-7 pm more meetings and at 9-11 pm planning for the next day. Another day may involve cleaning a rental property, bathrooms and all, to prepare it for a new arriving family, visiting the community garden, helping an unaccompanied minor find a safe place to sleep or holding the hands of parents while their child passes away.
Then there’s the middle of the night phone calls. They’re the best stories. My 21 and 17-year-old sons love that my husband and I have grown quite accustomed to what happens in the middle of the night.
Some funny middle of the night calls. “I ran over a sign on my way home, how do I get my car off of it?” “How do I get home from work?” Then there are the ones that you don’t like to receive. “I’m at the hospital with my child or parents, can you come?” “I’ve been in an accident, what do I do?”
Before I taught my own boys how to drive a car I taught 22 other young men and women how to drive. By the time I got to my own kids I wasn’t scared. We still get asked to teach people how to drive because their lives change. I have a woman that I’m helping teach to drive because her husband is losing his eyesight. She is the only one working and knows that she has to learn to drive – all at the age of 58.
There are the days that I get called to come to the hospital to witness the birth of a child. Fascinating.
Each time I take a person to register for college, assist with FAFSA and scholarship forms, school registrations and visit open houses it’s as if I’ve become parents to each of them. I feel so proud of who they’ve become despite the obstacles they had to overcome.
Then a few days a week I have a steady routine and that is to teach. I love teaching adults. I find it so rewarding. I pick up on the smallest success and marvel in their perseverance. I often ask myself if I have the strength to do something like this. Would my brain even absorb another word in another language? After 23 years of marriage to a Nepali-speaking person, I’ve mastered perhaps 10 words (with 8 of them being taught to me by the Bhutanese).
“It’s the love for human beings and a longing to know their story and understand who they are.”
What keeps me going? We’re currently 100% volunteer based so it’s not the salary. It’s the love for human beings and a longing to know their story and understand who they are. I want to provide my shoulder along with the wonderful volunteers shoulders when they need one. I came up with the name because I thought even if I gave someone a tidbit of my time it would be better than nothing. Heartfelt Tidbits provides an opportunity for everyone to share love, embrace and celebrate difference and all that is good in this world.
The reward? An indescribable love and an opportunity to live a life that fills my soul.
Thank you for supporting us by following the blogs, liking our Facebook posts and providing that shoulder to lean on!