So much has happened since our coworker Sunayana Dumala lost her husband Srinu Kuchibhotla to a hate crime in early 2017. Mass shootings, #MeToo, hurricanes, years of escalating racism and political division, the pandemic … no one would be blamed for feeling discouraged.
Yet, through all of this, and surely more, Dumala — a data engineer with Intouch B2D — has remained determined and hopeful. We sat down recently to see how things are going.
“In the beginning, it was a huge rush of emotions,” Dumala said. Her first thought when the police told her that her husband was gone was that she would leave – go back to India. There was nothing for her here anymore, she felt. But then she reached out to Intouch founder and CEO Faruk Capan, and said she wanted to do more … how could she help others avoid going through what she went through?
A Rallying Cry “I met only the right people when I was going through this,” said Dumala. “Faruk, for instance. When I sent him that email from India … for him to say to the whole company ‘we need to help her’ … that meant so much.”
When the tragedy happened, there was no doubt Intouch would rally around her. A Facebook page, Forever Welcome, was born from the desire to spread a message of empathy and unity.
The project, which Intouch helped launch in January 2018, received significant positive feedback and attention from outside our offices, as featured by the likes of HuffPost and BuzzFeed News.
I’m so grateful to Intouch for giving me that platform. – Sunayana Dumala
A Foundation Is Born “I turned Forever Welcome into a foundation in the summer of 2019,” said Dumala, “after the Facebook page was transferred [from Intouch] to me. … Sometimes I get scared: Will I be able to take it forward the same way that Wendy, Faruk, and the executives have?”
“Wendy” is Intouch EVP of Marketing & Communications, Wendy Blackburn.
“I love that the Forever Welcome legacy lives on,” Blackburn says, “and I have no doubt Sunayana will continue to do great things in honor of Srinu’s memory.”
The good news is that the Forever Welcome Foundation has a board of directors, which includes Blackburn and other advisors Dumala trusts.
“Having Wendy be part of the foundation has been very comforting; it’s good to have a pat on the back and a shoulder to lean on, a person to look up to. She was involved from the very beginning with the Forever Welcome process.”
Sunayana Dumala talks about her husband Srinu and moving forward after the tragedy that transformed her life.
Best-Laid Plans, Waylaid The foundation had planned to launch with its first event in late March 2020. But then the pandemic hit. People locked down, and in-person anything was all but off limits. Instead, they held a technology drive and collaborated with a Kansas City-area organization called Connecting for Good, which builds laptops and other tech items, and then provides those resources to low-income, underserved, and underrepresented communities.
“Rather than reinventing a process,” Dumala noted, “we wanted to connect with already established organizations.”
Another KC-area nonprofit, KC for Refugees, received the collected items from the tech drive and then distributed them to families in need.
What’s Next? At the start of 2021, the grip the pandemic would continue to have on the world remained unknown. But the foundation pressed forward. About a month before the fourth anniversary of her husband’s death, Dumala launched a GoFundMe page (the foundation is still working on getting 501c3 status) to raise money for hygiene supplies for refugee communities, who were expressing a need for them due to restrictions resulting from COVID-19. Again, KC for Refugees was charged with distributing them.
“During the board meeting, I was the least optimistic person,” Dumala confessed. “I set a goal of $2,500, but we raised almost $10K! The response reaffirmed that there is good out there, still. People do want to believe.”
With this level of response, the foundation can help 50 families with things like rent and utilities for several months, rather than just one or two. “Any small thing makes such a difference in their lives,” Dumala said.
One of the foundation’s goals is to open and build dialogue. They also plan to host – most likely in 2022 — STEM-based workshops and provide scholarships for kids along with mentorship for refugee families.
“This is a continuation of Srinu’s legacy; we want people to remember him,” Dumala stated. “He loved kids and education, and he believed that education was the path to a better future. How could I let people forget a person like Srinu?”
Progress is slow for now, but Dumala says her team is happy with what they’re trying to accomplish. The foundation aims to eventually take its work nationwide.
“I can’t just be silent about what happened,” Dumala said. “That’s what pushed me toward immigration advocacy. Going back to India might have been an easy path, but I chose the hardest path.”
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