Few people have time to volunteer for even one organization, let alone several. JoElla DePra, however, is a member of the Hebron Chamber of Commerce and a volunteer for the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce’s Envision the Future program, which helps teach regional eighth graders to envision what life will be like as an adult. She also volunteers with Rebuilding Together of Hebron, an organization that helps community members with yard work or home repair for low-income community members, and is a member of United Way’s Young Leaders United group, which connects young, up-and-coming members of Porter County’s business community to make an impact in the community as well as develop their own professional skills and experience.
DePra also works with Meals on Wheels through her day job as a trust officer with Valpo’s 1st Source Bank Wealth Advisory Services department. So how does this Hebron native juggle all these amazing volunteer roles with her other roles, such as a business woman and mother?
“It’s all down to time management,” DePra said, displaying a humility that’s indicative of her amazing attitude towards community activism.
DePra’s history of volunteering and community service began about fourteen years ago when she started working for 1st Source Bank and got involved with the bank’s partnership with Meals on Wheels. She does this for the simple reason that she can.
“I always hated hearing about things after the fact,” said DePra on why she started serving the community. “There are always things going on, and finding out after something had taken place is frustrating.”
The easiest way to fix the problem of finding out about community service events, after the events had happened, is to begin networking.
“I started getting to know the people who were hosting these events and doing things, and it was sort of a domino effect in finding out the needs that were apparent in our community. I wanted to do things about that,” said DePra, “I wanted to help the people.”
DePra discovered that she can’t help just one organization. Through the power of networking, she’s brought different organizations together to help make the community better in a more efficient fashion than if each individual group worked separately.
“One of the businesses in the Hebron Chamber does a 5K at Christmas to see the Christmas lights,” DePra explained. “The owner was looking for different people to sing or play music along the route. I work with the youth at my church and knew there were some choir kids that would be interested in doing this, so I put a group together to sing. We partnered and sang at this fundraiser for the runners.”
DePra’s work with different community service organizations in Northwest Indiana naturally stems from her personality and personal philosophy.
“I like making new friends,” DePra said, “I like meeting new people, and I’m genuinely interested in what people have to offer for their business, or for their nonprofit, or what they do to help other people. It’s always good to know people in the sense of what they do and what they bring to the table.”
DePra’s networking habit also presented her with the opportunity to refer other local businesspeople, through a group she called “I Got A Guy,” a sort of mini-chamber of commerce where local businesspeople from around The Region would meet on a monthly basis for lunch and to network.
“We’d talk about what it was we did,” DePra said, “and get to know each other in hopes of cross-referring. There was an attorney in this group, I was the financial person, there was a lender, a personal trainer, a jeweler, anyone from any walk of life was invited, and it was just a laid-back, lunch atmosphere of ‘What do you do, and why would I call you?’”
For DePra, however, volunteering is its own reward. Her drive to help the community to thrive and be the best it can be is evident in her own feelings on community service.
“I like that I can help people,” said DePra. “I like that I feel like I’ve made a difference, as small as that may be, and I like that there’s always an opportunity.”
DePra also enjoys the fact that volunteering is never the same situation twice.
“I like that it’s always different,” said DePra. “There’s not always the same needs. There’s not always the same people helping. It’s always a different group going out to help for the better.”
In her free time, DePra likes to bowl in a bowling league in Hebron, go on picnics with her husband and three kids and follow local Valpo band The War on Peace. In addition to those things, she enjoys Hebron’s 4th of July Parade, Porkfest in Kouts, Popcorn fest in Valpo, and camping in our country’s national parks with her family.
DePra’s been all over the world, having travelled to places like London, Paris, Amsterdam, the British Virgin Islands and Mexico. With such a history of travel, that keeps her in Northwest Indiana?
“It’s just good to always come home,” said DePra, “This is home. I’ve never wanted to really leave.”