This month’s Mission Moment is dedicated to one amazing woman, Gretchen Taylor. If you’ve ever met Gretchen, you know she is made of Mission Moments. From chaperoning field trips with the Headstart program to welcoming international students into her home, she never stops finding ways to give back to our community... at 86 years old.
I first met Gretchen in the YWCA office at Shared Spaces… she was headed past the conference room (the Gretchen Taylor Conference Room named for her, I might add) holding a few letters in her hand for my colleague and I. We hardly exchanged introductions before she began talking about her love of storytelling, and how we might incorporate sending more letters to our supporters. Leaving me with the letters and a sudden bolt of energy, she jetted off to another volunteer engagement.
The second time I was with Gretchen was at our annual meeting for the YWCA. She was being recognized as an outgoing board member of YWCA Mankato, and it was then I learned she had more than 57 years of board experience with various nonprofits, universities and causes. As she moved towards the front of the room to accept her certificate, 100 community members stood in applause.
“My mom has always had an insatiable curiosity, and she shared that with us even as kids.” Said Nancy Zallek, Mankato Area Foundation President & CEO and Gretchen’s daughter, “She always made it clear that we were not allowed to be ignorant; we knew it was important to pay attention to current events and to ask questions about the world around us. Today, she is exactly the same. I must admit she is often the one keeping me up to date on everything from news headlines to the coolest new apps for your iPhone! She is truly an amazing role model, and we all strive to emulate her. Though, I must say the bar is set pretty high.”
Wanting to learn more -- Gretchen and I grabbed a cup of coffee to talk about her unquenchable thirst for volunteering. We found a table and she pulled a letter from her purse. Another story from a nonprofit caught her eye… and she couldn’t wait to share it with me. Somehow, even when being interviewed about her achievements, she was thinking of others.
I asked Gretchen if there was anything she wouldn’t do for a nonprofit, and she laughed, “I hate fundraising… but if it has to be done, I’ll still do it. I know it’s important.” She recalled a fundraiser she helped with for Minnesota Public Radio. She was given five names and five dollar amounts to ask for. “I was on the phone talking with the woman, and eventually got up the nerve to ask her for $5,000. I heard a gasp on the other end of the phone and started to worry. Then I looked back down at my sheet of names and realized I was only supposed to ask for $2,500! I apologized for the mistake and the woman laughed. She ended up giving us the money!”
I sat and listened while she poured over the stories of the people she has met through her many board experiences and chance encounters. The best moment was when she remembered a time her husband picked up an international student who was locked out of their dorm during winter break, “Some people bring home stray animals… Brett [her husband] and I bring home stray people!” She raved about her three “children” their family took in throughout the years, all students needing a temporary home. Gretchen has three children of her own, and is now passing on her philanthropic values to her grandchildren. Her granddaughter, Bailey, idolizes her active and generous grandmother.
“My grandma is, without question, the coolest person I know. I have never met anyone so active in life, in the community, and with family. On top of that, she is a fixer. She is constantly coming up with ways improve the injustices she sees around her, and does so by generously donating her time, talent, and treasures to those who need it most. I can only hope to someday be half as amazing as she is.”
There’s no question Gretchen’s legacy will last through generations, and when I asked what she hopes others will learn from her experiences she responded, “I hope others get out and do things. Get to know how many great people and organizations there are in the community. If there’s something that needs doing, do it!”
While I will probably never hold a candle to Gretchen’s generosity, I do plan to practice the art of storytelling. I hope one of you will save this mission moment, pull it out of your purse, and pass it on to someone in your life.
River Valley Woman Magazine Features YWCA Mission Moments
Starting November 2017, the popular River Valley Woman Magazine will begin featuring YWCA Mankato Mission Moments! Not only will we keep you up-to-date on amazing stories from women, girls and friends of YWCA on our website and e-news... we now have a platform to reach women across the river valley! Each issue has a theme, and our mission moments will reflect the theme, but also tie to our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women!
"What's a mission moment?"
We start our staff meetings with Mission Moments, stories reflective of our mission to eliminate racism and empower women. The stories span from girls crossing the finish line of their first 5k to a woman overcoming fear of failure and starting her own business. We are excited to share these moments with you, and inspire you to uncover your own!
Have a Mission Moment of your own?
Submit your YWCA Mission Moments to Cate at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Turning Junk into Generosity
In 2015, my dream took flight when I was sitting at the annual YWCA Mankato Women’s Leadership Conference.
I yearned to take my love for finding one-of-a-kind, unique pieces of furniture and items about to be thrown out and fixing them to be used again. A beautiful church pew that once supported families through love and loss, a trunk filled with love letters from afar, a small washbasin from simpler times – these were treasures to me. I believed old furniture, with a little love and elbow grease, could be loved again… or, reLoved.
As I sat at the conference (among some pretty amazing women) I allowed my crazy idea to turn into a business. I wasn’t going to let fear hold me back anymore. The next day, I woke up, got out of bed and took my first scary step towards my dream…
…and I haven’t looked back.
reLove is not just my business, but my passion. It gives me the power to give back in ways I never could have imagined. I’m not only committed to scouring the country to find the best furniture -- I’m devoted to making our world a better place. Every reLove purchase gives back to those who need it most. In a short two years, reLove has allowed me to donate more than $3,000 to nonprofit organizations and individuals who need support.
On Mother’s Day last year, I woke my kids up and said, “Today, we are going to give away $1,200.” So as a family, we went out and gave it all away. If I had let fear overcome my passion, we never would have donated board games and toys to a local shelter, bought groceries for families in need or witnessed the shock-and-awe of a pizza delivery driver receiving a $90 tip!
I believe some things in life are just “too good to be threw.” This has become a beautiful metaphor of my life. Like the dilapidated furniture I find, I believe it is in our brokenness when we can offer something beautiful to this world.
I am grateful for the amazing women I have met through YWCA Mankato’s leadership programs. They have been my cheerleaders and have supported me on this bumpy journey. If you find yourself feeling broken or just need a bit of inspiration, I strongly encourage you to go to the YWCA Mankato Women’s Leadership Conference.
If you ever see me curbside, picking up junky-treasures, remember it started with just one small step…
Cheryl Hamond is the Director of Social Responsibility at the Mankato YMCA. She is now the proud owner of reLove and a 2013 graduate of the Elizabeth Kearney Women’s Leadership Program. YWCA Mankato is proud to recognize Cheryl’s strengths and accomplishments. Want to tell your leadership story? Email us at email@example.com.