Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA)
What Does Your Company/Organization Do?
SMCAA is a Community Action agency that services low-income residents of Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties. We are dedicated to empowering diverse people in need and supporting their journey towards economic security. In order to reduce poverty in the community, SMCAA focuses local, state, and federal funding resources to assist with programs and services including food assistance through commodities and pantries, weatherization, housing rehabilitation, income and asset building coaching, housing support, and critical emergency services such as utility, rent, or mortgage payment assistance. It is our vision to be a beacon of support in a strong, thriving community by helping people and changing lives.
With the guidance and encouragement of my colleagues and loved ones, I have been able to accomplish some feats during my time before and with Community Action. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Michigan University where I pursued a major in professional writing and a minor in nonprofit business.
Professionally, I have achieved a number of industry-specific certifications within the past three and a half years with my agency. I am a graduate of Michigan Community Action’s Leadership Institute, a Nationally Certified ROMA Implementer, and a Certified Nonprofit Professional through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. I was also appointed by Governor Whitmer in July 2021 to represent Community Action agencies as a Commissioner on the Michigan Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity.
Additionally, my agency has enabled me to progress in my career by cultivating a number of skills including policy development, data analysis, and program management. SMCAA encourages innovating ideas as well, which has been evidenced through my overhauling of the agency website, development of an emergency and crisis management plan, and facilitation of our strategic planning process. I have also collaborated with my team and community partners on large programming such as the annual Stuff-a-Truck “food”-raiser, Holiday Food Share Program, and United Way Sale.
Outside my profession, I find accomplishment through volunteer work. I have been blessed to volunteer with a number of organizations causing great impacts in the community. I was on the Little Black Dress committee, was a founding member of the Pink Tie Ball, and currently am a Board member of the Berrien County Cancer Services, all of which advocate for and raise funds towards cancer research across SWMI. I also have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, FIRST LEGO League, 100 Women Strong, and actively participate in the local women’s networking group, Women Among Women, which encourages women to gather and discuss ways to be better stewards in the community and help one another achieve goals, both professionally and personally.
What else do you hope to accomplish by the age of 40?
If the last year has taught me anything, it is that setting goals for the future may be futile in an ever-changing, ever-evolving world. However, turning 30 this year has also given me an opportunity to look more closely at my next decade and set some milestones before I hit the age of 40. Over the next ten years I hope to focus a lot more on cultivation in my life by further developing my professional skills, bettering my education, growing my relationships, and overall refining myself into a better person.
I have set a few plans in motion to help me achieve these accomplishments. Professionally, I am currently studying to become a Certified Community Action Professional and actively exploring new fundraising ideas to bring more sustainability to my agency’s programs. Personally, I have high hopes to run a full marathon before I turn 35 and am training for my third half marathon. I also would like to visit all fifty states before I am 40, and have thirty-eight states checked off so far.
I am a 2010 alumni of Michigan Lutheran High School, and have a Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and Writing Studies and minor in Nonprofit Leadership from Western Michigan University. (Go Broncos!)
Where were you born?
What was your first job?
My first job was at the Dairy Queen in St. Joseph when I was a sophomore in high school.
Best advice you ever got?
“Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.” I’ve heard this quote in a number of different forms and from many different people, and it has become a sort of mantra in my life. In my line of work, and in our world today, I fully believe seeing things from other people’s perspectives is key to a happier life and more peaceful community. Changing our vantage point helps us recognize, reflect on, and respect one another’s opinions which may be different from our own. Each of us has our own path through life with unique struggles. It is so important to learn to be open to all points of views because of these differing situations so we can learn how to help others, tolerate differences, and ask for assistance in our own times of need – all of which ultimately lead to a better life for everyone.
Who inspires you most?
I find inspiration in a variety of people and things, but I would have to say that the person who most greatly inspires me professionally is my executive director. She has spent over 20 years with my agency, and her dedication to the Southwest Michigan community and SMCAA’s mission is tangible. Her passion for helping people motivates me every day, even during the hard and long days. She never complains about being tired or overworked; she simply smiles and keeps pushing forward. When I need that extra boost of inspiration in my own life, I seek out her opinion.
That one thing about you we’d be most surprised to learn.
In February 2021, my husband and I got the crazy idea we needed more to do in our busy lives and bought a farmhouse built in 1919. We sweetly refer to her as our “30 year project” and are loving the process of restoring her to her former glory.
What do you love to do in your downtime?
During my downtime, I enjoy exploring our little corner of the world – whether that be attending local events, visiting favorite wineries and restaurants, or hiking new trails with my husband and two pups. Cultivating my green thumb, antiquing, and baking are some of my favorite hobbies as well.
What book are you reading now?
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins and Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
Volunteer activity you love the most.
Every opportunity to volunteer brings something new and positive to my life. However, my favorite volunteer activity at the moment is my work on the Michigan Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity. This commission is a statewide forum addressing the needs and concerns of low income people by advising the governor, legislature, state congressional delegation, and other federal officials on the extent of poverty in Michigan. As a representative of Community Action agencies, I am able to bring a unique view of what state and federal policies and programs may be addressed to assist low income families throughout the state, but also particularly those in Southwest Michigan. It is an exciting opportunity to bring a voice from Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties to this important table, but also to include my perspective as a millennial female.
What motivates you to give back to your community?
I was born and raised in Southwest Michigan. My children will be born and raised here. It is important to me to give back to this community because it gave me so much – a place to call home, a great foundation to learn and grow, ample opportunities to experience diverse cultures and beliefs, strong tribes to lean on, and so, so much more. And my motivation is not only in gratitude for all I’ve been given, but also to assist in developing this community into something brighter and better for future generations to come. Southwest Michigan is truly a gem, and I want to do my small part in helping it continue to shine.
What Superpower would you most love to have?
Definitely teleportation! Not only would it be great to travel anywhere in the world on a whim, but just think of the time saved traveling to day-to-day errands.
What has been the most eye-opening thing about the coronavirus pandemic for you, personally?
Even though there are thousands of things out there about how the pandemic has opened our eyes to everything wrong with the world, I personally saw how the pandemic brought the best out of this community. I witnessed an up-rise in community assistance needs early in the pandemic, but my agency also saw a spike in generosity from individuals who not only donated money to help with programming, but also offered their time and safety by volunteering to assist with SMCAA services. Outside of my agency, I saw this same generosity in action by people offering to shop or run errands for vulnerable neighbors, dropping off care packages to friends and family members, and other little random acts of kindness to let people know they are loved and cared for.
What does the honor of being named to the 40 Under 40 most mean to you?
Knowing some of the other absolutely amazing and talented individuals honored with this award in the past, all I can say is I am so appreciative to be included as a “40 Under 40” of Southwest Michigan. This honor is confirmation that I am making some sort of impact – hopefully a positive one! – in my community. I neither needed nor expected recognition for that impact, but am thankful for those who thought it important to nominate me. Thank you, thank you! I will now continue to do my part, just with a bit brighter of a smile!