Through a legacy fund, one humanitarian’s commitment to nourishment, mental health, and well-being will endure far beyond her lifetime.
“When working in service to others, the people we help often mirror our own stories. And in that mirroring process, we can find healing.” For Dimple Dhabalia, whose career in public service and the humanitarian sector spans two decades, her story, and her passion for healing, reflects across generations.
“In law school, I felt so drawn to work in human rights,” she explains, “but at the time, I didn’t even know what that meant. There was just something inside me that kept drawing me to that work.”
After earning her Juris Doctor (JD) degree and passing the Colorado Bar Examination, Dimple accepted a position at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office where she was in a unit that represented the State Department of Human Services’ Central Registry for Child Protection. Within a couple of years she relocated to California, and after passing the California Bar Examination accepted a position with a firm that, to her, “just didn’t have that human connection.” So she kept looking, still drawn by this somewhat vague notion of “human rights… human rights…”, until one day, she came across a listing for her dream job. “It was for an asylum officer,” she says, and then laughs as she adds, “and it was the very last day of the posting! But I knew I had to apply. I submitted my application at 11:58 PM, two minutes before the deadline.”
A few months later, Dimple was offered that dream job.
Later that year, when Dimple went to visit her parents and relatives in Princeton, NJ where they were living, she learned just how much her family’s story was mirrored by the people she interviewed as an asylum officer. As she told the family about her new position, her uncle Yash stood up, walked to his room, and came back with an old suitcase. He opened it, and carefully lifted out old papers, letters, photos, and cards. “These were his only belongings with which he fled Uganda three decades earlier. These were his most prized possessions now — pieces of his story about his journey to the United States as a refugee.”
“For most of my life, I didn’t know my family were refugees,” Dimple explains. “I knew they were immigrants, but I didn’t know what had really happened.”
This discovery only deepened the gratitude she had always felt for her family. “We didn’t have a lot growing up,” she says, “but my parents made a point of sharing what we did.” As Hindus, feeding others was central to her family’s culture. “My parents taught me that it was a gift to be able to feed others in this lifetime, that nourishing another human is a beautiful feeling.”
Beyond the gift of nourishing others, cooking was sometimes a lifeline for Dimple’s family. “When we were going through difficult times, my mom’s cooking for other people, catering out of our house, is how we were able to survive.”
After years of watching her father struggle with his mental health, and 20 years of working with asylum seekers and refugees – through cycles of bureaucratic fatigue, burnout, and vicarious trauma from serving vulnerable populations – Dimple noticed another mirror: “In my career, I kept seeing myself go through the same patterns of trauma and burnout again and again in the workplace. And within these organizations, the stigma around discussing mental health needs, and talking about burnout and trauma, was a really interesting parallel to my father’s experiences.”
So drawing on her own personal and professional experiences, Dimple launched Roots in the Clouds in 2021 with the mission of creating sustainable cultures of equity, connection, belonging and well-being for those working in the service of others. Through coaching, training, and facilitation, she challenges the narrative of “service before self” and works with organizations to “imagine what might be possible if we could serve other humans without sacrificing our own mental health and well-being.” Dimple expands on these possibilities in her upcoming book.
“And within these organizations, the stigma around discussing mental health needs, and talking about burnout and trauma, was a really interesting parallel to my father’s experiences.”
Outside of her career, Dimple also continues to expand on what it means to be in service to others, and how charitable giving can be yet another reflection of one’s story. “I had been thinking about starting a foundation,” Dimple says, talking about how her estate plan might continue to serve vulnerable populations even after she passes. “Both of my parents were young – my dad was 58 and my mom was 65 – when they passed away. You literally never know when and how you’ll take your last breath. That’s why having a plan is so important now.”
“But the process for setting up a foundation just seemed overwhelming: all the pieces you have to put into place to make that happen.”
Dimple reached out to Brent Baxter, her estate attorney in Arlington, to see what she might do instead, and he mentioned setting up a legacy fund with the Community Foundation. “I had never heard of a legacy fund,” she admits, “so I was very intrigued.”
Soon enough, Dimple was all-in. “The more I talked to Christy and the Foundation team, the more I fell in love with the idea of a legacy fund. The process was easy and super organized, and it made me think about things I may not have thought about. It helped me get real clarity.”
For Dimple, she knew she wanted her fund to provide a source of ongoing support in service of the world’s most vulnerable people as she has done through her key philanthropic priorities during her lifetime – ensuring food and nutritional security, addressing mental health needs and trauma, and supporting the growth of spiritual well-being – while also ensuring something was written in the plan to support refugees.
“You literally never know when and how you’ll take your last breath. That’s why having a plan is so important now.”
“The Foundation was so accommodating in my requests and really gave me a sense of agency: knowing that I can directly impact and choose how and where the money will be used even after I’m gone is pretty significant.”
Also significant is how the fund can continue to honor her family. “My family made me the person I am: the things I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had, the love I’ve received. If this fund in some way makes a legacy for them too, that makes me really happy.”
Today, Dimple continues her healing work through Roots in the Clouds, her blog, and her book (releasing February 2024), which she describes as “part memoir, part manifesto.” With the establishment of her legacy fund, Dimple’s life of service, and the lives of her family, will continue to be reflected in the healing it provides for generations to come.
“I hope my fund helps people understand themselves a little more,” Dimple says, referring to her fund’s mental health and spiritual well-being priorities. “If they understand themselves a little more, they can understand others a little more. And when we learn to see our own humanity, it makes it easier to see the humanity in others.”