It has been a busy year for Indian River Junior League’s 2014 Woman of the Year, Lalita Janke. It’s about to get busier in the next two years, she says, and she’s looking forwards to it.
Fresh from her meeting with UN Women representatives a few weeks ago and a recent one with the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Advisory Committee for the college of Arts & Letters, Lalita Janke, the Board President of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women (USNC-UN Women) and sitting Board Member of the aforementioned college of Arts & Letters is busy at work. “I’ve been at a lot of productive meetings lately,” she tells us, “surrounded by people of different working backgrounds, who share a common vision of change and progress via collaborative efforts throughout our respective communities.”
When not running from one meeting to the next for USNC-UN Women, Lalita is actively committed to her role as the volunteer Executive Director and Board President for Camp Haven, Inc., a transitional shelter-program for homeless and at-risk men in Indian River County, FL. Through their 501(c)(3) non-profit, The Walter & Lalita Janke Charitable Foundation, she and her husband, Dr. Walter H. Janke, have supported Camp Haven’s efforts from inception – helping to fund the renovation project of a once dilapidated 20 room hotel into what is now Camp Haven’s fully functioning campus for area homeless and at-risk men who are willing and able to transition into a life of self-sufficiency.
Lalita’s average day at Camp Haven is never a dull one to say the least. Each day is filled with managing the operational needs of the organization, holding individual and group meetings with program participants and fostering donor relations to secure ongoing funding. No task is too small or beneath Lalita, as she often spends half her Saturdays picking up food donations and sorting through and organizing them to ensure nothing goes to waste. When asked how she is able to maintain balance in her life and successfully manage the responsibilities she has with the different organizations she’s a part of, she emphasizes the importance of collaboration, saying, “Success is never a solo job. You need people to work along with you. Getting the right Board for example is the foundation for a sustainable organization.”
After a productive day at Camp Haven, Lalita mentally switches gears and focuses on the work that needs to be done for the U.S. National Committee for UN Women (USNC-UN Women). As president, she is working to tighten relations with UN Women, internally streamline communication and efforts between all 15 USNC-UN Women chapters and foster external relationships to gain financial support for ongoing initiatives that seek to improve the safety, economic and educational conditions of women globally.
“The disenfranchisement among women is a malady that still exists,” she answers when asked about her passion for helping women in this way. “More funding is vital and needed to effectively carry out UN Women’s initiatives.”
When asked about the international efforts of USNC-UN Women and why one should support the organization, Lalita says, “No matter where one lives, when we help women, especially in countries where they have little to no rights and their voices are being silenced via verbal threats and physical abuse, we are in essence helping ourselves, our daughters and our sisters. Women’s issues is a global one that can’t be overlooked,” she continues.
In close dialogue with UN Women, Lalita talks about the passion USNC-UN Women shares with the organization, “They have so many life changing programs for women in over 100 countries. We support each other and are highly motivated and driven to achieve the same goal.” She stresses the kind of impact both organizations are trying to make by quoting UN Women’s Executive Director who said, “We need not incremental change, but bold change.”
Following in the footsteps of her mother who set up a housing program in Mumbai, India (in the early 60s) for battered women who left Goa, India to escape their abusive husbands and mother-in-laws, Lalita has also initiated programs, calling attention to the violence committed against women on a global scale. She notes that her involvement with helping women was initially motivated by her own personal experience growing up in India, where the unequal treatment of women was commonplace.
“My mother taught me that without choice of education and finance, women were going to be hampered all their lives. Freedom to me was financial viability. That is why I joined women’s groups to give and receive empowerment,” she says. “Giving women a voice, options, shelters and empowerment are not just words to me.”
Apart from her work with the U.S. National Committee for UN Women, Camp Haven, Inc. and Florida Atlantic University’s College of Arts & Letters, Lalita also supports the Indian River County’s Substance Awareness Center (SAC) for women with a history of drug abuse. Through their Charitable Foundation, she and Dr. Janke, donated funds in 2011 and 2013 that allowed SAC to purchase two homes for these women in those years.
Asked what she looks forward to before the year ends, Lalita says that she wants to close the year on a positive note by getting the necessary funding for the USNC-UN Women’s initiatives and by expanding Camp Haven’s campus in order to help more area homeless & at-risk men.
“Sometimes what you set out to do when you’re young is very different from how it turns out in the end. The road for me has had many twists and turns,” she reflects. “You don’t get what you wish for all the time, but you make the best of where you are right now.”