After Chetna Chandrakala moved to Rochester in 2006, it was the first time in her working life that she didn’t have a commute.
She had commuted one to three hours every day whether working in California, Chicago, Delhi, London or Mumbai.
Now that she has those extra hours back in her daily schedule, Chandrakala does not waste a minute of the time she is afforded from not having a commute by being involved in efforts to support the cause of mental health, ensure that children have the best developmental opportunities possible, and leverage the intellectual capital of the Indian American community to help the greater good.
“Rochester needs to understand that (having no commute) it’s like money. You have three hours in your day that you can spend in support of the good things in your life. Don’t waste any minute,” Chandrakala advises. “And I don’t waste any of mine.”
Even while Chandrakala has risen to an executive role as senior vice president of finance and compliance for the Greater Rochester Independent Practice Association, she is extensively involved in the community. She is currently the treasurer and board member of the Mental Health Association of Rochester and a member of the finance committee of the United Way. She also is president of the Hindu Temple of Rochester and board member and past chair of the Development of Indian American Leaders, which provides members of the Indian-American community with training to become involved in the larger Monroe County nonprofit community. She also is the past chair of the Professional Forum of India Community Center of Rochester, and she has led efforts to open up the Hindu Temple to other faiths such as having the temple participate in Rochester’s Gay Pride Parade.
“Part of my belief system is that we need to be respectful of all beliefs and religions,” Chandrakala says.
Chandrakala and her husband, Abhas Kumar, also have been mentoring high school students for the past eight years in the performing arts, helping to organize a talent show as part of a black-tie fundraising banquet led by the students. Chandrakala estimates that over the years $300,000 has been raised for 10 different charities that help children.
Chandrakala says one of her focuses in her community involvement is trying to ensure that youth have the opportunity to develop a solid foundation, including a passion for community service and a commitment to tolerance during their formative years.
“Just take what Mahatma Gandhi said,” Chandrakala says. “If you’re tolerant of each other and you never oppress each other’s beliefs and their community, people will be less angry. They’ll be less violent.”
She notes that being involved in the performing arts is a constructive way to spend time and provides a venue to help people.
Chandrakala says she was driven to give back to the community after she got the all-clear from a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012.
She notes when she was growing up that community service was not a “main theme. The theme I learned from my parents is to help myself and help others. Do what you can for yourself and for others around you.”
Chandrakala “gives full credit to our Rochester community and this country” for inculcating her in the culture of community service and for inspiring her in how she can spend every free minute she no longer spends commuting.
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.