When I met HealthMPowers board member Sonali Rao at Chocolatte on Shallowford, she greeted me with the enthusiasm of someone who’s already had a great morning. “I got to sleep in until 6:45,” she exclaims. A self-described early bird, Sonali’s day often begins around 5 a.m., and it quickly becomes evident that she is passionate about healthy habits. “My husband and I exercise every day. Otherwise, it’s so much easier to make the WRONG choice.” I nod in agreement and make a mental note to drink more water to offset my coffee.
A Passion for Health and Empowerment
As we chat, we dive into how Sonali got connected with HealthMPowers. As part of the Inspire Atlanta initiative with the Atlanta Women’s Foundation, Sonali met Jennifer Owens, current President and CEO at HealthMPowers, who was a presenter representing the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Around the same time, Sonali started a new role at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. So, when a spot opened on the HealthMPowers board, it was clear Sonali would be a great fit.
Sonali’s personal beliefs on health and wellness aren’t just aspirational- they’re family values. “Being a mother, I want to make sure I’m leading by example and teaching my kids from a young age the value of health and nutrition,” she explains. But for Sonali, this belief extends beyond her family, reflecting her broader vision of equal opportunities and comprehensive education for every child.
Diversity and Inclusion in Health Education
Sonali reflects on her formative years in Gwinnett County, attending one of Georgia’s most diverse high schools. “Growing up among many immigrant families and non-native English speakers gave me a unique perspective,” she says. “Many of my classmates came from households where parents had to choose between survival and safety.”
She contrasts this with her young children’s experiences, noting, “In the community my children are growing up in, they have choices, and so do we as parents. But it’s essential to ensure these choices are informed. For instance, while a traditional Indian breakfast might be carb-heavy, it’s about balancing that with enough activity.”
While today’s families may have many more options, Sonali believes in universal access to health education. “I want all children, not just mine, to understand what healthy choices look like.” This conviction fuels her admiration for HealthMPowers. “Ensuring HealthMPowers is present in diverse schools and communities is crucial. They not only educate but instill the understanding that even small choices can have a significant impact on one’s health and well-being.” She emphasizes, “It’s vital to consistently educate children from all backgrounds. Every child should feel empowered to make health-conscious decisions.”
Bridging the Virtual Gap and Addressing Mental Wellness
While much of Sonali’s engagement with HealthMPowers unfolded through virtual channels, dynamics shifted during the spring 2023 board meeting. It wasn’t just an occasion to explore the new office but also an opportunity to visit with the newly activated Youth Advisory Board. “Listening to these high school students, their energy and excitement were palpable,” she recalls. A consistent theme among these young voices was the emphasis on the need for emotional and mental wellness support. But Sonali wants to address that head-on. “Evidence consistently shows the positive impact of physical activity on emotional and mental health. Our job is to amplify that message ensuring it reaches all communities.”
The Value of Trust
As our conversation turned to fundraising, I asked what she wishes other people knew about why she supports HealthMPowers. She acknowledges that the competition for charitable giving is fierce but that her confidence in the organization’s fiscal responsibility and expansion only underscores the value and impact of every donation. It’s what she shares when she tells her HealthMPowers story. “As a part of this small but mighty organization, passionate about championing healthy habits for children, I’ve seen the growth firsthand. That’s what you want with any organization you support.”
Reflection and Momentum
As our conversation winds down, I take a moment to reflect on Sonali’s influence as a board member and as a mother. Her commitment to health and wellness reshapes perspectives, making me wonder how different my childhood might have been with such values. Inspired, I resolve to embark on a healthier journey, starting with a walk tomorrow.