Meet the Board: Lauren, Sharmila, Colette and Roberta

Since the beginning of our global organization nearly two centuries ago, volunteerism has played an integral role in transforming lives and strengthening communities. Y Volunteers are just as diverse as our community itself, and every person shares their own personal gifts to improve the Y experience for all, whether by helping to maintain our community gardens, supervising registration at one of our big events or simply lending a hand whenever and wherever it’s needed.

For some of our volunteers, sharing time and talents takes the form of being a Board Member. While many see our Welcome Center Staff, Directors and Instructors every day, Board Members are a group of often unsung Y heroes who utilize their own community connections and networks of influence to help us move our mission forward. To help you get to know some of the new members of our Board team, we’ve begun a brand new series that shares more about their personal work, their professional accolades and their own Y Stories. Meet Lauren Schoenbaum, Sharmila Kassam, Dr. Colette Burnette, and Roberta Benham in this week’s installment of our “Meet the Board” series!

Lauren Schoenbaum, Esq. Lauren is a business lawyer with an affinity for entrepreneurialism and community involvement. She is the Managing Partner at Ruffner Schoenbaum, PLLC, where she works with a team of other superstar female attorneys to protect and support local businesses. Originally from Kansas, Lauren planted roots in Austin, Texas after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law. In addition to her legal career, Lauren has also filled service roles through her time on the Austin Diaper Bank Board, the Mother Attorney Mentor Association of Austin Board, and as a volunteer for People Fund. Lauren is the recipient of the Austin Diaper Bank’s Volunteer of the Year Award and the TCWLA Advancement of Women’s Interests Award. Learn more about Lauren here.

YMCA: Why did you choose to volunteer for the Y?

LS: I’ve spent much of the last five years dedicating my time to organizations that primarily support women and I felt pulled to do something that would have an impact on all types of people. The Y is doing some really incredible things across different communities in the Austin area, and that’s something I wanted to be a part of. 

Sharmila Kassam, Esq.Sharmila is the Deputy Chief Investment Officer at Employees Retirement System of Texas, where she manages a defined benefit and defined contribution investment program worth $33 billion. Sharmila graduated from the University of Texas Undergraduate School of Business and received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law. Some of Sharmila’s professional achievements include being an Institutional Investor Magazine NextGen CIO Finalist and recipient of the Institutional Investor Magazine Woman of the Year in Investment Management Award.

Learn more about Sharmila here.

YMCA: What have you learned about the Y so far that was new and/or has surprised you to learn?

SK: I am glad to learn and shouldn’t have been surprised at the commitment the Y has to all groups of children from teaching young kids to swim (particularly targeted to those groups that would not historically have access to lessons), to children with special needs and also children who for different reasons may not have experiences like camps for different reasons.  The policy issues being passionately addressed in this work is so far beyond the brick and mortar buildings I knew until I volunteered.

Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, EdDColette is the first female president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University, the oldest institution of higher education in Austin, Texas. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Colette relocated to Austin in 2015 and has become a known and highly respected member of the local community Outside of her career in higher education, Colette has considerable IQ and EQ experience and was Computer Analyst at The Washington Post and was also a Operations Support Engineer at Proctor and Gamble. Colette has also racked up major honors including The 10 Most Influential Women in Austin, Ohio State University Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award, and the Thurgood Marshall Foundation Chief Information Officer of the Year Award.  

Learn more about Colette here.

Roberta BenhamOriginally from Laredo, Texas Roberta arrived in Austin to attend college. After graduating from the University of Texas with dual degrees in Spanish and Economics, she became interested in technology and began her career at Dell, where she currently works within Dell’s Global Marketing organization. Roberta has more than 20 years of global business experience, working with diverse teams located around the world. Roberta is multilingual, speaking English, Spanish, and French. She is active in her local community, spending her time volunteering and mentoring children in East Austin, supporting LifeWorks, and working with the Magellan International School.

Learn more about Roberta here.

YMCA: Why did you choose to volunteer for the Y?

RB: When I was first approached to volunteer I did not know the extent of the programs the Y provided. However after meeting with Richard and Louis over lunch to get a better understanding of the programs and who benefits from them, I knew I had to volunteer. What made the Y different, was its commitment to providing programs (e.g. swimming, dance activities, etc.)  where children thrive regardless of socio-economic background. I wanted to be a part of that, to help, whether by getting the word out in communities where Spanish is the first language or working with the team to keep and gain members. 



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