Shortly after a massive earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, a friend of Sandra Gilbert-Matias persuaded her to travel to the country with her to assist with relief efforts. Sandra, senior manager, quality labs for Baxter’s Covington, Ga., facility, didn’t know what to expect, and was blown away by the scene she found when she arrived.
"I wasn’t prepared emotionally for the devastation and for the children I saw in the street," she says. "It broke my heart."
While there, she and her friend volunteered at an orphanage helping provide food, school supplies and support to the children, many of whom had recently become orphans when their parents were killed in the disaster.
"The work was endless," Sandra remembers. "After two weeks, we were getting ready to leave, and a little girl told me, ‘I want you to be my mommy. Please don’t leave.’ I knew I needed to continue to be involved."
Since then, she’s gone back to Haiti to volunteer almost every year for one to two weeks at a time. Sandra and other volunteers ask for donations and purchase school supplies, bed sheets, food, toiletries and other essential supplies and ship them to the orphanage ahead of time. She’s helped build bunk beds for the orphanage and has walked through the tent cities to pass out items like clothing and flip flops to the children living in the makeshift shelters. Sandra and others also personally contributed funds needed for a young woman at the orphanage to finish nursing school.
"I feel that we all have an opportunity to make a difference," she says. "I just think that some of us just don’t realize it."
Sandra takes this philosophy to heart not only in Haiti but also close to home through volunteer projects with Baxter. She’s involved with Junior Achievement (JA), a non-profit economics education organization, and has taught JA classes at a local middle school and participated in a career talk at a local high school.
"I want to show them that I’m a woman in a leadership position and give them some guidance around the types of courses they can take if they want to pursue this career path," she says. "It was inspiring to hear one girl tell me, ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up.’"
She’s also one of the co-leaders of the Covington chapter of Baxter Women Leaders (BWL), one of Baxter’s business resource groups which provide forums for employees to develop skills, experience valuable cultural connections and support key business initiatives.
"Our mission is to seek out and empower women in their careers, spread our knowledge base and inspire them to make a difference at Baxter and in the community," Sandra shares. "As soon as I found out about the chapter starting here, I was eager to be involved."
Since the Covington BWL chapter started last November, Sandra and her fellow members have sponsored a holiday gift drive for local children and have collected personal hygiene products to give to local homeless women. Sandra has also taken part in initiatives organized by other business resource groups at the Covington facility, including a city-wide clean-up event.
Sandra says that she’s energized by spearheading volunteer projects and being of service in the community, and hopes to also inspire others to get involved.
"I want to encourage people to reach their potential and use their inner gifts to make a difference," she says. "With these efforts, we have a catapult effect and make an impact at Baxter and in our community."