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Monday, April 15, 2024

Around the World and Back

Jaimie Sheth's charitable inspiration starts at home.

Jaimie Sheth grew up the daughter of a refugee from Burma (now Myanmar). Mindful of potential prejudices, her mother Meena advised, “You will always have to work harder because you’re a girl and you’re brown.” Sheth took those words to heart and, as a self-defined workaholic, founded Evansville’s JD Sheth Foundation.

“When I look back at my life, I don’t think about all of the projects I’ve completed, I think about the lives we’ve impacted,” she reflects.

After graduating from the University of Evansville at 25, she took a year off to travel. She then found work at The University of California Los Angeles’ outpatient ortho/neuro clinic and student health center as a physical therapist assistant and worked there for five years. The Reitz Memorial High School alumna then worked as an independent consultant in geriatric physical therapy for 14 years.

Inspired by a 2006 visit to India’s Kolar Gold Fields region and a play- ground-building project she witnessed in Vietnam, Sheth constructed a school in Cambodia in 2008. Funding came from $13,000 raised by friends and family and matched by Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. Between 2010 and 2015, Sheth picked one project abroad each year.

By 2015, the foundation achieved non-profit status. It has worked in 16 countries on sustainable projects related to housing, education, clean water and sanitation, energy efficiency, and food security. The foundation relied primarily on private donations until 2021. Today, many projects are funded by private and corporate donations as well as grants.

“I’m driven toward the bigger projects because they make me nervous. … I have a project management type mind and I’m very goal oriented. Half of the fun is the planning phase on figuring out how to make a project come to life,” Sheth says.

Sheth’s foundation also provides needs-based infrastructure to local under-served communities. In 2020, when she moved back to Evansville as her mother’s health declined, Sheth wondered how to shift her focus to Southern Indiana.

Since then, the foundation has collaborated on many regional projects, including a pocket park across from ECHO Housing’s Lucas Place II, an air filtration system for Tri-State Food Bank, and a wheelchair-accessible ramp at Evansville Christian Life Center. A large construction project on Read Street erected three houses for veterans called “Home of the Brave.” Another foundation project to remove barriers to CenterPoint Energy’s weatherization program received $600,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding through the city.

The local impact runs deep: When the foundation raised a million dollars last year, Sheth says 95 percent remained in Evansville.

What lies ahead? The foundation recently adopted Glenwood Leadership Academy, a full-service community K-8 school on Evansville’s South Side, with plans to invest $10,000 in upgrades per year for as long as the foundation exists.

Sheth’s mother passed away in 2021. Sheth, 48, now serves as a caretaker for her father, Devdas, with whom she shares daily meals.

“My mom motivates me to do this. … She was always my biggest cheerleader, educator, and advocate,” she says. “I believe she can see it all now and it motivates me to make her proud.”

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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