AmeriHealth Caritas prides itself on employee volunteerism. In 2017, the Philadelphia-based, medical assistance managed-care plan launched a program called Care Crew that encourages its over 7,300 employees to volunteer at least four hours a year as a way to give back to the communities they serve.

In 2018, AmeriHealth employee Vidya Iyer’s first full year in Care Crew, she blew that four-hour suggestion out of the water. In 2019, she volunteered more than any other employee in the entire company, donating 533 hours of her own time, energy, and skills to nonprofits and causes that speak to her heart.

That’s about 10 hours a week — the equivalent of a part-time job. And the pandemic hasn’t slowed her pace.

While Iyer, an information technology manager for AmeriHealth Caritas, is not one to brag, she concedes that she’s loved volunteering since she was a child in her native India, where family members routinely spent time helping others.

“That’s how we grew up,” said Iyer, 45, who lives in Thorofare, Gloucester County, with her husband, Patanjali Shukla, 45, and their son, Neel, 12. So she probably would have volunteered the same amount of hours last year whether she’d logged them for Care Crew or not. It’s just who she is.

Her son is her main motivation for being involved. She wants to instill in him a love of serving others.

“Your kids do what they see you doing, rather than what you tell them" to do, she said.

So in 2012, she started volunteering at the India Temple Association in Berlin, Camden County, a social, religious, and cultural organization that her family is involved in. She taught a Sunday school program, Balvihar, that focuses on teaching children about India’s rich cultural heritage, history, and values.

She went on to volunteer at her son’s West Deptford district school as a classroom helper, an event chaperone, a party organizer, spelling bee judge, and fund-raiser.

Then her scope widened. She collected and donated food to a food pantry. She did toy-sorting and distribution for the Salvation Army, food-sorting for Philabundance, card-making for the St. Ignatius Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Her volunteering with the India Temple Association also took off. She participates in its charitable endeavors, like American Cancer Society fund-raisers. She leads events like the children’s celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. And she lends her IT expertise to help the association keep pace with technology.

Her family follows her lead. Husband Patanjali also volunteers at India Temple, serving on the Sunday school’s food committee and helping with events that Iyer leads. And Neel is making his parents proud with his own donation of time and energy to various causes.

For the past three Halloweens, for example, he has collected canned goods for a food bank, instead of trick-or-treating for sweets for himself (he sends fliers to neighbors beforehand, so they’ll be prepared). And each year, he and his mom volunteer at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, where he sells refreshments to raise money for the society.

At the last one, having sold out all of his cookies and lemonade but still full of enthusiasm, he talked other volunteers into letting him sell the doughnuts that were supposed to be their own snacks.

“He was just so excited!” Iyer said.

Neel Shukla, 12, and his mother, Vidya Iyer, 45, of Thorofare, N.J., at Cherokee High School, Marlton, N.J., on June 1, 2019, at the annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life.
Family photo
Neel Shukla, 12, and his mother, Vidya Iyer, 45, of Thorofare, N.J., at Cherokee High School, Marlton, N.J., on June 1, 2019, at the annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

Neel isn’t the only young person Iyer has motivated to think about how to help the larger world.

Mehul Malik, a junior at Moorestown High School, was mentored by Iyer while helping out with the Indian Temple’s children’s education program.

“Ms. Vidya was inspiring and encouraging,” Malik said. As a result, “I have become a better leader overall, and I look forward to working with her in the future.”

With the impact of COVID-19, Iyer’s IT talents are more sought after than ever, especially by the association. She’s managed to get its prayer meetings, social groups, classes, and Sunday school sessions up and running on Zoom or YouTube, acting as host, troubleshooter, and tutor.

“If they have any issues, they can call me,” she said.

She’s also helping ramp up the association’s electronic communication to members. The once-monthly newsletter now goes out weekly — sometimes more frequently, depending on the need. That includes the grim but important task of informing recipients about deaths of community members. There were four in one recent week — passings that, in quarantine, might go unnoticed.

“People are much more isolated, but technology has done a lot," Iyer said.

Govind Modi of Mount Laurel, coordinator of the association’s senior social group, said that Iyer’s work is relieving the isolation of once-active older members who are now homebound.

She has taught the seniors how to use Zoom, and they now meet weekly, glad to see each other again. “We are so grateful to Vidya,” said Modi, who runs the Zoom meetings. “God bless her.”

And Iyer is grateful for what volunteering has brought to her life.

“The best part is, you make many friends who share the same vision," she said. “These friends have now become part of my extended family, away from my home country.”

They are her good karma, she said — “the entire South Jersey community.”