Kim Dann Messier was pregnant with her youngest child, now six years old, when she first met our founder Stephanie Williamson at a neighborhood barbecue. She’d been on the hunt for a way to be of service in the community, and started volunteering at Helping Hand Me Downs once a week. That steadily grew to twice a week, then three times a week—which is how it happened for many of our full-time employees. Eventually Stephanie offered Kim a full-time job as operations director, a role she’s now held for us for over three years.
As operations director, much of Kim’s work involves hammering out the logistics of the organization and interacting with parents we serve, as well as other volunteers and employees. Nonprofit work also runs in her blood: she grew up volunteering, her mother ran a nonprofit for several years and she even took a few master’s level courses in nonprofit management. While she didn’t know it would all culminate in her current role with us, we’re sure glad it did. Keep reading to learn more about Kim’s story and what inspires her every day.
There are so many volunteer opportunities to choose from when looking to get involved in service. What was it in particular that drew you to Helping Hand Me Downs?
Honestly, becoming a mom was a huge part of it. When I met Stephanie, she told me that baby swings were one of the top donation requests they received. They can even prevent child abuse, because they calm down children and babies who won’t stop crying. My two kids loved their swings when they were babies, and I could really relate to the mission to help other mothers. I know how challenging it can be, and that really resonated with me. I may look or dress different from the moms we serve, but I’m a mom too. I can relate to worrying about your kids and doing everything you can to make sure they are safe and happy.
Then of course, working with someone like Stephanie—her passion and personality really pulled me in. And now we basically share a brain; it’s like we have a telepathic connection. I’ve had jobs before that I couldn’t stand, and now I really love what I do.
How does your work with Helping Hand Me Downs directly impact the community?
You’d really be shocked to see how invisible the problem can appear. Most people don’t even know that moms are needing the most basic items you can think of to care for their children. But when you’re working directly with the moms and kids, you see how absolutely vital this work is. Even the most simple things, like being able to provide a bed for a mother or her child. The impact is really tremendous: that child is going to perform much better in school the next day if they’ve had a good night’s sleep on a comfortable mattress.
We also have our Bring it Back program, which allows a client to receive new items once their child has outgrown newborn clothes and toys, for example, which they return to us. They’re also encouraged to come back and work with us as volunteers, sharing their experience with other parents. The fact that they’re able to use their experience to help other parents is really remarkable. That way, it doesn’t feel like a handout.
What are some of the largest obstacles you’ve seen that the families you serve are up against?
We can help take care of their basic needs right away, whether they need clothing, shoes, toys, beds, a car seat, etc. But many of the moms we see are dealing with domestic violence, abusive relationships and really difficult issues. I make sure everyone in a situation like that walks out with a phone number for a women’s safehouse. A restraining order is just a piece of paper. We also have families come in who are dealing with some sort of massive crisis: they’re homeless, enduring a period of unemployment or living paycheck to paycheck. Thankfully, we also have a number of partners where we can refer clients to create a real safety net for them.
Monica Wade, who went through our program as a client and now runs our Pagedale office, is a great example of success. But, she’s also the exception. She works incredibly hard, and even comes in on her days off to volunteer with us. Real change takes time, work, and the realization that it’s not going to be easy, even with support from resources like ours.
How do you create some level of separation between your work and personal life? I imagine those lines get blurred when you’re working with people in this kind of vulnerable time of real need.
Sometimes it is hard to detach. Talking with Stephanie and Monica and other moms on a daily basis really helps. And working with Mary Brown, our resident life coach. Sharing what we’re going through with her is a really powerful experience. Some days it’s really hard, but I try to keep it in perspective. What we go through is really minimal compared to the moms we serve.
And then there are some days where I actually don’t really want that separation—with my kids, for example. My children go to University City public schools where a percentage of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. My five-year-old asked me about that one day, and I had to explain to her that not everyone has parents who can pay for basics, like food and clothes. It was a really hard conversation to have with her. But I think it’s really important that they get a realistic picture of the world, and to learn how to be kind, compassionate people.