During the past year, Poonam’s focus pivoted to helping those less fortunate in our community.

Photo courtesy Poonam Chabra Poonam Chabra relishes in giving back and helping others.

 


By Kelly Barbazette

Poonam Chabra’s dual passions for event planning and community service have empowered her — as well as her friends and family in the Indian community — to help make a difference in people’s lives, sparking a chain of giving throughout South County.

I had the pleasure of chatting recently with Poonam, 51, who made Morgan Hill her home in 1994. Poonam’s involvement in Morgan Hill’s Indian community began shortly after she moved to the U.S. from India in 1993 via an arranged marriage to her husband, a first generation Indian-American.

They settled in Morgan Hill and now have two children, an 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. She and her husband have aimed to raise them to know both their American and Indian cultures.

“My husband and I, we wanted to give the best of both worlds to our kids,” she said.

That interest in connecting the two cultures led Poonam and a close group of friends to create the Indian Association of South Santa Clara County 27 years ago. The former president of the nonprofit group, Poonam said its primary goal is to promote culture and heritage amongst the community.

“At that time, I didn’t have kids, but the primary purpose was we, as an Indian community in South County, got together and celebrated our cultural events,” she said.

That began with celebrating the Festival of Lights, or Diwali, and the Festival of Colors, or Holi. Poonam became the cultural coordinator of the group soon after. She invited Indian-American youths in the community to get involved in the cultural events, showcasing their talents in the skits and musical performances in an effort to expose them to their culture.

Poonam sought more opportunities to immerse herself in the community. In 2018, she enrolled in Leadership Morgan Hill to learn more about her adopted hometown and to serve as a conduit between the South County Indian community and the larger community. She’s proud of her class project in which class members commissioned local artists to paint murals highlighting motivational themes on 11 utility boxes throughout the city.

She also went on to serve on the Morgan Hill Library, Culture and Arts Commission in which she helped infuse its annual Art a La Carte family-fun event with cultural performances from different parts of the world. In 2019, the Indian Association of South Santa Clara County marked its 25th anniversary with a Diwali festival, drawing more than 500 people who enjoyed traditional Indian food, music and dances.

While COVID-19, unfortunately, prevented a celebration last year, this year the group is spearheading an international day-long event that Poonam said will “highlight the diversity and cultural differences from all parts of the world” with food and educational activities. It will be held Oct. 16 at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center.

During the past year, Poonam’s focus pivoted to helping those less fortunate in our community.

“Last year in January, I told my family I really want to do something and make a difference in people’s lives. I felt a void,” she said.

She reached out again to the Indian Association of South Santa Clara County, which kicked off a humanitarian initiative, dubbed the Circle of Giving, to help vulnerable populations in South County, including farm workers, domestic violence victims, homeless people, and underserved children.

“We’ve decided as a community we’ve done very well for ourselves with our careers and our children’s education. It’s time for us to give back,” she said.

Poonam helped to tap and funnel the skillsets of the Indian community to local nonprofit charitable groups in the form of tutoring, clothing, food and toy drives, and home-cooked meals.

What Poonam enjoys most about the work she does is making a difference in people’s lives and being able to connect with people who really need help.

“That really brings me a lot of gratification and it also feels great to have our adults and our youth in our community, in either cooking or tutoring, and to see the huge impact on people’s lives.”

Whether it be youths making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or teenagers tutoring, Poonam said, “These kids really want to make a difference and the spirit of volunteerism is just amazing.”

Poonam said she has very much enjoyed utilizing her skills as a corporate events program manager to help seniors in the Indian community connect with friends and family.

Through the Indian Association of South Santa Clara County, she helped teach seniors to use Zoom to interact with family and friends on their laptops and iPads. They also held a series of virtual socials and speaker series.

What motivates Poonam the most is her passion for living. “I’m a really party person,” she said with a laugh. “I love to throw parties. I’ve been told I’m high energy. I bring my passion for events, and passion for community service and kind of tie them together.”

When asked what advice she’d give to other women trying to reach their goals, she recommended allowing their true passion in life to guide them.

“If there is something that you really want to do, just follow your heart,” she said. “No matter how tough the challenges are that you face, never give up.”


Kelly Barbazette, a former journalist for Bay Area newspapers, is a freelance writer. She lives in Gilroy with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at [email protected]


 

Freelance Author