Sayali Amarapurkar wins the 2021 Tom Oye Award | Edine

Sayali Amarapurkar (left) alongside Mayor Edina Jim Hovland and Commission on Human Rights and Relations Chairman Michael Epstein (right) for photos after receiving the 2021 Tom Oye Award on December 7 . (Photo courtesy of the City of Edina)

Sayali Amarapurkar’s passion for helping others is, as she puts it, right in her blood.

And that’s one of the reasons she received this year’s Tom Oye Award, which recognizes her work in raising South Asian families in the community.

“I feel very honored and truly humbled. … It’s nice to see the work being noticed, ”Amarapurkar, executive director of the nonprofit AshaUSA, told Sun Current. “Recognition is for the job more than for myself as a person.”

She added: “I am happy that the residents and the town of Edina recognize the importance of the work, and this was only the beginning.

After a nomination process, the Human Rights and Relations Commission presented the award to the 47-year-old resident at the Edina City Council meeting on December 7. The annual award was established in 2006 in recognition of the late Tom Oye, a resident of Edina who was an early member of the City’s Human Rights and Relations Commission, for over 30 years. . Oye, a second generation Japanese American, was also a Nisei Soldier during World War II, serving in the 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Nominees are judged on their efforts to “foster respect and dignity for others, demonstrate courage and / or compassion in the promotion of human rights, and demonstrate leadership by example to improve relationships. human rights or advance human rights, ”the city said.

Amarapurkar grew up in a small town in India where she lived with her extended family until the age of 8, when she and her immediate family moved to Bombay. In 1995, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology and two years later, a master’s degree in human development from the University of Bombay.

After graduating, Amarapurkar moved to the United States with her husband, Balkirishna Jahagirdar, in 1998. The two resided in Chicago until they moved to Minnesota the following year. In the fall of 1999, Amarapurkar began to study the social sciences of the family as part of a doctorate. program at the University of Minnesota. At the time, her husband was also studying at university. So the couple lived in Roseville, near the St. Paul campus, she said.

In 2009, the couple moved to Edina “mostly for the school district,” Amarapurkar said, as at that time she now had two sons reaching school age. With her doctorate, which she obtained in 2004, Amarapurkar was now doing research and teaching at the University.

But when the family moved to Edina, the mother-of-two decided to take a break from work and instead chose to volunteer when she was not taking care of her young boys.

In 2014, with her interest in supporting racially and ethnically diverse families, Amarapurkar helped her friend and fellow volunteer, Kamala Puram, formerly a resident of Edina, establish the AshaUSA organization.

As the two volunteered together, they noticed a growing number of South Asian families in Minnesota. The couple also found that these families faced issues such as mental health, child rearing, family relationships, accessibility and, for the elderly, loneliness, Amarapurkar said.

The organization, whose name “Asha” means “Hope” in Hindi, has a mission to “promote health and harmony in the South Asian community,” she said.

Amarapurkar added: “The idea was, can we provide resources and help them before they get to a point where, you know, it’s a crisis?”

Minnesota’s South Asian population grew from 21,925 in 2000 to 42,739 in 2010, according to U.S. Census data. An updated count for this demographic group was not available as of the 2020 Census.

These are often families from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Tibet, Amarapurkar noted.

Since the founding of AshaUSA, Amarapurkar has served on its board of directors. Two years ago, when Puram moved to another state, Amarapurkar became executive director. Puram is still involved in the organization as chairman of the board.

AshaUSA has three main thrusts: research, programming and community education, Amarapurkar said.

The organization partners with entities such as the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health to conduct community-based research. Recent work has included studies on the health needs of the South Asian community and the use of alternative medicine.

For programming, AshaUSA holds a monthly group for the elderly to meet to discuss feelings of loneliness. The group started with just seven seniors six years ago and now attracts over 40, Amarapurkar said. “It’s going strong,” she said.

Another program is a Mental Health Matters initiative, which the organization launched in 2015 to “raise awareness and address the stigma associated with mental illness and mental health issues” through offerings such as panel discussions and online resources. line, said Amarapurkar.

HUM group

AshaUSA hosts a monthly senior group called HUM for members to have conversations, build friendships and show off their talents, according to an annual report from the organization. The photo was taken in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Sayali Amarapurkar)

And with diversity, equity and inclusion training being a more important focus for organizations in recent years, AshaUSA has not been idle. Its leaders have visited different cities on the metro, spoken to school districts, government agencies, health care providers and universities to talk about South Asian culture, Amarapurkar said.

AshaUSA is “kind of like a cultural consultant in that aspect,” she said.

Amarapurkar’s other roles

As a result of her community education work for AshaUSA, Amarapurkar started working in 2018 as the South Asian Cultural Liaison for the Edina School District. Her role is to help South Asian families navigate the school system and while working with other cultural links in the district, she said.

Mary Manderfeld, the retired Edina public school administrator who hired Amarapurkar, told The Sun Current that her former employee has done a “fantastic job” and is committed to the community of Edina.

She “is just great at her job, has a great work ethic, passionate about making every student successful,” said Manderfeld, who has championed the equity work in the district.

In recent years, Amarapurkar has also participated in other aspects of the district’s racial equity training.

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Amarapurkar wanted to take action against what she called anti-black prejudice within the South Asian community. So, she helped launch an initiative, along with other advocates of the South Asian community, called SAARI, which stands for South Asians Against Racial Injustice. The name coincides with a garment, the saari, which Indian women often wear, Amarapurkar said.

The group held a silent vigil at the George Floyd Square Memorial in Minneapolis and since then has held several virtual briefings with members of the community of color. The initiative then became part of an official community committee with the Minnesota Indian Association, Amarapurkar said.

In 2021, she joined the board of directors of the India Association of Minnesota.

Last year, Amarapurkar launched a bimonthly Hindi-language podcast called Global Desi Parenting to help South Asian families raise their children.

For Amarapurkar, who said he grew up in a family with “a history of giving back to the community,” looking for ways to help someone else is second nature. “Every morning if I wake up and can’t think of, how can I make a difference in someone’s life, I feel like I’ve wasted my day,” he said. she declared.

During his studies in different institutions, Amarapurkar often encountered a Western lens to information. In her work, Amarapurkar said she “always felt like we can’t apply this lens if we are working with different families from a different culture.”

Now, in his different roles, Amarapurkar uses this idea to instead support “culturally relevant work… where we really look, you know, where this community is coming from and what their specific needs are”.

This feeling of making a difference spread to his two sons. Om Jahagirdar, now a junior at Stanford University, and Atman Jahagirdar, senior at Edina High School and soon to be a Stanford student, founded an organization called Omnisight International in 2016. The organization offers eye tests and blood drives. glasses for young people from poor neighborhoods. regions of the world. And last year, Atman created a website to tackle vaccine reluctance among minority populations, featuring several different languages.

Since the birth of their sons, Amarapurkar and her husband, an oncologist, returned to India almost every year to visit their families. She said they wanted to make sure their children stay connected to their culture while looking for ways to give back.

“It’s in our DNA,” she said. “They both came up with these ideas and did some work, and they still continue to do the work. We are therefore delighted. “

Amarapurkar said she was surprised to learn that someone had nominated her for the Tom Oye Award.

“What I do is basically what excites me, what I think our community needs. … And I always feel like this is just the beginning for me, ”she said.

After seeing Amarapurkar’s nomination letter, “it should be obvious to everyone why we felt she was more than qualified to win this year’s Tom Oye Award,” said the Chairman of the Commission on human rights and relations Michael Epstein to city council on December 7 before presenting the award.

With this recognition, Amarapurkar hopes people will understand the importance of the work being done by AshaUSA.

“There is so much work to be done,” she says. “We haven’t even scratched the surface, as they say.”

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

James C. Tibbs