By coincidence, our next amazing woman we are featuring that we know personally is ALSO in Memphis, TN. We asked Veena Rangawami, another great friend of HerStory, to answer a few questions about her passion for public service and what motivates her.
Q: Why are you interested in public service?
A: I’ve never known a life without public service. I grew up in a small town in the Delta as the daughter of two physicians who encouraged my older brother and me to give back for as long as I can remember. My career in public service has evolved a lot over the years, but it has its roots in my Delta childhood.
Q: How did you get started in public service?
A: I grew up in one of the ten poorest counties in the country, and every day my parents would come home with stories of patients whose families could not afford medical treatment. My father is a pediatrician who never turned away a child because of a family’s inability to pay, and that was a lesson I took to heart from a young age. I had the opportunity to go to boarding school for my last two years of high school where I became involved in daily service and learned more about how to serve my community. That involvement continued through various programs in undergrad, after which I moved to India and worked as a program manager for an NGO in Bangalore. Each opportunity has led to the next, and I feel like I have now come full circle.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I am the COLLABORATE Specialist for the Bridge Builders program at BRIDGES in Memphis, TN. That’s a fancy way of saying I coordinate our summer leadership conferences for rising 11th and 12th graders and help to run our year-round program. We bring together 7th-12th graders from around the greater Memphis area to participate in experiential-learning workshops and then discuss ways they can use their newfound skills to create change in their communities. I have the honor of watching our students grow as leaders in their neighborhoods and their schools, and I know how cliched it sounds but I really do feel like I have found my dream job.
Q: What advice would you give a woman coming up in public service?
A: I saw a woman wearing a shirt at a recent festival in Memphis, and the image of it has stayed with me; it said, “Act like a lady, Think like a BOSS.”
Q: Tell me about a powerful moment you’ve had while in public service?
A: During the first week of Senior Conference this summer, I was speaking with one of our Bridge Builders. He is a very sincere, thoughtful young man, and when I said in passing that it seems like he has been a Bridge Builder his entire life, he responded with “Maybe it’s because BRIDGES is the only place where I feel I can always be myself.” He said it so casually, but it really drove home the impact of the work we are doing.
Q: If you had to choose a meme or gif to demonstrate your daily work life, which one would you choose?
Q: Who is your role model?
A: I have so many, but I keep coming back to Joli Anderson. Joli was the director of the service program at Baylor School, my high school alma mater, for over 20 years and has been one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known. She is the person who first introduced me to daily service, who gave me my first service leadership role, and who afforded me my first opportunity to combine travel and service. Over the years I have turned to Joli again and again, and she continues to be one of the greatest inspirations in my life.
Q: What Instagram account do you like to check when you need a distraction?
P.S. Veena is awesome. This is just the tip of the iceberg of her awesomeness. She also has one of the best grams herself – @veen_83. You should totally follow her.