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Sandra Maldonado is a Chicagoan through and through. Born and raised here to Ecuadorian parents, this city is her home and its people, her people. “I’m definitely here to stay,” she says, laughing. It’s this devotion to the city that pervades her philanthropic work.

While doing her undergraduate work, Sandra worked part-time at Healthcare Alternative Systems (H.A.S.), which is how she got to know the organization. After graduating, she worked in the mental health field, including in a psychiatric ward at a hospital. After a few years, she decided to change careers and begin her own insurance agency. Twelve years later, she still owns and runs American Insurance Agency in Chicago. But her passion and commitment to mental health care–and to H.A.S.–never wavered. She has been a board member for 11 years.

“H.A.S. was the first place I worked, and I realized quickly that mental illness and substance use have a tremendous stigma associated with them. But H.A.S. is doing such good work, not only to lessen that stigma, but the actual grassroots impact they have on individuals. They are changing lives.”

Sandra has done many things in her role as a board member: she has gotten the word out about the organization and its services, brought on a few other board members, and has been involved in the Golf Fore Recovery event (as well as other previous events like the ones for the postpartum depression program and various luncheons). She acknowledges there’s still more that can be done. Of course she wants the organization to expand its services and programming, but she also foresees H.A.S. growing in terms of locations, facilities, and areas being served.

To help grow H.A.S. in these exciting and important ways, Sandra points to the approaches others can take to get involved. The Board has discussed having a junior advisory board and encouraging individuals to participate in specific initiatives and events. “There are ways to help the organization without making a huge commitment. Charitable giving, attending meet and greets to learn more, and teaching others about the work H.A.S. does are all low-impact ways for people to get engaged.”

So why does Sandra remain a part of H.A.S.? She recognizes the numerous organizations out there that one can get involved in, but also mentions how special this one is. “H.A.S. does the work that’s uncomfortable.” With the shame that often surrounds seeking mental health care and substance use treatment, the services that H.A.S. provides make people feel comfortable, cared for, and enables them to build a pathway to recovery and success. “These are people who have lost everything: their homes, their jobs, their families. Seeing them get back on their feet is very moving.”

In her spare time–when she’s not busy with her board work and her job–Sandra loves to travel all around the world. She has visited Ireland and Barcelona, among other places, and next on her list are Greece and Italy. She also enjoys craft projects and hosting.

Although her involvement with H.A.S. has changed over the years, she still feels connected to the actual work being done by clinicians and those on the ground and in the community. This is what truly motivates her to give back. “It’s amazing what the clinicians at H.A.S. do every single day–the heavy lifting. It’s their blood, sweat, and tears that go into the organization. They are superstars. They are making a change in people’s lives.”