We believe that the people in our community, the people who Give, Advocate and Volunteer, are pretty spectacular people and they deserve a bright light shone upon them.
Michelle LaRocque is one of those people. Michelle has been a dedicated Hands On Volunteer Leader since 2013. She has led both of our Flex projects at MANNA Food Bank over the years- our general Pack & Sort at MANNA Flex project and, more recently, MANNA Packs for Kids. MANNA Packs are backpack-sized parcels of food discreetly distributed to students in need identified by school counselors. This program benefits WNC school children who are dependent on free or reduced cost lunch and might otherwise go hungry over the weekend. Volunteers participate by packing the MANNA Packs with food items that are distributed to local schools. These projects can accommodate many volunteers who are required to work together as a team in the busy warehouse. Michelle’s gentle but steady leadership, and attention to detail, each month ensures that Hands On volunteers fulfil the school’s MANNA Pack commitment. Thanks Michelle!
I work for CooperRiis, an organization that helps folks who have suffered set-backs due to mental illness or emotional distress. The CooperRiis mission is to create a healing environment in which individuals can construct a future for themselves that is independent, productive, and personally meaningful.
How are you involved with United Way and why?
I have been a Volunteer Leader for the MANNA Flex projects for a number of years. I took on this role as it enabled me to use skills that may have not been fulfilled in other organizations, as the Volunteer Leader role is unique to Hands-On. The Flex projects are flexible not only for our volunteers but for the leaders as well. I feel that working as a Volunteer Leader provides me with an ideal opportunity to serve both Hands-On and MANNA while maintaining my commitments to work and family.
What are some of the most important issues facing our community?
One issue is that of the racial and economic disparity within our City. I used the Public Transit system for many years. The public housing in Asheville is not well suited to promoting the independence of individuals who wish to develop a self-sufficient lifestyle outside of those communities. I support Mountain Area Housing Opportunities' efforts to provide affordable housing within our City, as well as Habitat for Humanity's homeownership programs.
What small act of kindness were you once shown that you will never forget?
I was walking home from Ingles in the middle of a snow storm. This was during the time that I used public transportation, and the buses were not running. A couple offered me a ride home. I did not usually accept rides, as I did not wish to be a burden. On that day, I did accept their offer. I realized that it didn't matter why this couple offered me a ride: whether out of kindness, the fact that they felt sorry for me, or due to feelings of obligation. Through that interaction, I came to understand that, when we deny other people the opportunity to help us, we deny them the pleasure in doing so. As a volunteer, I know that the work I do has meaning for those whom I serve.
When you "grow up" who would you want to be like?
I wanted to be like all of the Americans who have a “can-do” attitude. When I saw the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, I said to myself: "I want to go there. I want to help clean up. I want to help them rebuild." I hope that I will be able to join others in missions trips focused in the United States. I think that we do a good job of responding to natural disasters, but we're lacking in responding to the disasters that we create for ourselves in our country.
What advice would you give to someone who has never volunteered before?
I would encourage a new volunteer to find a niche for him or herself within an organization. It can take time to do so, as well as be frustrating. I believe that there is a special role for everyone as a volunteer. You may end up taking on a role more rewarding than what you'd set out to do when you signed up. I would also advise someone who wishes to volunteer long-term to know when it's time to leave. It is possible to become a disgruntled volunteer. This phenomenon is understandable and perhaps even natural. It’s best to acknowledge this when it’s happened. There are many opportunities to volunteer in our community. The work is never done.
What three questions do you wish you had the answers to?
When I volunteer in an organization, I wish I knew the answers to these three questions:
- What is the organizational structure?
- How do volunteers fit into the overall picture?
- Is my feedback really valued?
I have been most frustrated as a volunteer when I don't understand the larger picture. I have been most happy when I can see the value of my contributions to those with whom I work, which includes people within the organization as well those whom we serve.
Is there one area of United Way's work that you are most excited by/proud of?
I am most proud of Hands-On itself!