By: Parker Sanchez
I Support The Girls’ wonderful affiliate heads find us in many ways – Internet searches, Facebook, news reports, interaction with current volunteers – but our Fort Collins, Colorado Affiliate Director Melissa Reese is one of the few who can say she knew founder Dana Marlowe “way back when!” Today’s Q&A helps us get to know Melissa better, and how she found her passion for working with girls and women experiencing and homeless.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Buffalo, NY, and moved to Rochester, NY to attend college at Rochester Institute of Technology –where I met Dana! I lived in Rochester until 2010, as a student, graduate student and adjunct instructor at RIT. I’ve now lived in Fort Collins, CO for the past 8 years, working as the manager of the Electrical Engineering Department at Colorado State University. I’m married, and we have one five-year-old son.
How did you first find out about ISTG?
Dana was a college classmate at RIT. We were friends on Facebook, and I saw what she was doing and was inspired. Just like most women, I had never considered that other women have circumstances that made it so that they couldn’t afford a bra, or had to make difficult choices between food and tampons. The thought of it spoke to me on a very basic level as woman, and as a mother. I knew I wanted to help, but still I put off contacting Dana for a while, because I kept making excuses to myself that I didn’t have the time. Being a mom and a wife and running a busy academic office, I already felt like my plate was completely full – even too full sometimes.
ISTG stayed on my mind, and eventually it started keeping me up at night. After one such sleepless night, I got up in the morning and reached out to Dana. She put me in touch with Rachael, who gave me all the details on how to start an affiliate in northern Colorado. That same morning, I reached out to two local organizations I knew of that directly supported homeless and at-risk women, the Fort Collins Rescue Mission and Crossroads Safehouse (which shelters and supports women who are victims of domestic violence). Both these organizations responded promptly and enthusiastically that they would love to receive support. That was all I needed to hear – I was off and running as an affiliate.
What is the most satisfying part of your work at ISTG?
There’s the obvious answer, which is doing something for my community and neighbors, helping connect them with items that they may not have had if not for my efforts. But the most satisfying thing about doing this is more personal than that. It’s the way it has connected me to my community in a way that I don’t think would have been possible otherwise, or even knew that I needed or wanted in my life. It’s in the way that it’s opened up my vision on the things that are happening around me, and made me want to know more about my world. It’s in the way that I have found to be actively grateful, and express my gratitude through acts of kindness.
I have met so many people throughout northern Colorado, people who work for homeless or domestic violence support organizations every day, that literally put their full-time effort into trying to make someone else’s life better. It has been awe-inspiring to see their commitment. And yet when I bring in a donation, there they are, thanking ME for bringing in pads and tampons – such a small thing compared to what they do every day! There is so much happening in our world that is discouraging and disheartening, but through ISTG I have the privilege of making small contributions in my community that have a real and positive impact. Without ISTG, I’m not sure I would have figured out how to do that on my own.
What have you learned about homelessness since starting to work at ISTG?
Everything I know about homelessness I learned through my work with ISTG. I learned that I didn’t know anything about the people I was passing on the street every day. Fort Collins is a pretty small town, but with a very visible homeless community. I passed people lined up for dinner or an overnight stay at the Mission, or on the corners downtown asking for change, but I didn’t really ever go any deeper. When I started as an affiliate, I knew that what I was doing was filling a need. I have always been organized and motivated, and I just knew that if other women around me knew of this need, they would want to help too. I made it my charge to make sure the people around me were made aware that our own neighbors were without these items. To me, at first, it was almost as if I was trying to solve a communications and logistical puzzle. But pretty quickly it became so much more than that. I had assumed that homelessness is caused by things like mental illness or drug addiction, and that is the case sometimes, but it’s not the whole story.
What’s the single, most important fact/item people don’t know about homelessness in America?
People treat homelessness and the homeless person as though they are at fault; that some sort of irresponsibility put a person in this situation. And what most people don’t realize is how easy it is to become homeless. Nearly 80% the people in this country live paycheck to paycheck. As salary is earned, it is already 100% committed to the current needs of the family, with little to no option for savings. An unexpected crisis (a health emergency, loss of a vehicle, or loss of a job) can be the single force that disrupts a situation that has no safety net.
Thank you to Melissa for sharing with us today! Stay tuned for part two of this affiliate spotlight, where we highlight the amazing work Melissa and the Fort Collins Affiliate have been doing in northern Colorado.