Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Melissa Iwami

Thursday night Volunteer Coordinator Melissa Iwami (seen here with EL at Martini Madness) was born and raised in Lombard, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. She is an only child and admits, “I always got a lot of my parents’ attention.” She says it was “good and bad,” but she thinks she has a much better relationship with her parents because of it. She loved growing up near a big city and has always been outgoing and talkative. She has relatives in different neighborhoods of the city who exposed her to a lot at a young age.

Melissa lived in a district which has open enrollment, meaning she could choose which of four high schools she would like to attend. Rather than go to the largest school with most of her friends, she chose a smaller one in order to get more one-on-one attention. She ended up loving high school and working really, really hard. “My parents made me pretty driven,” she says. She worked for the yearbook and the newspaper and she was a member of the orchestra.

Oddly, after experiencing small classes in high school, Melissa chose to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where the student-to-faculty ratio is much higher. She didn’t go back after her freshman year, but she says, “Everything happens for a reason.” She met her best friend there who she now lives with in Andersonville. In fact, she lives with her whole family! In one house reside her friend’s parents, grandfather, and uncle. Melissa likes this ‘home away from home’ because it means she’s not just ‘a little fish in a big city.’

Melissa has had many jobs. She worked at a retirement home as a dining room supervisor and, later, as an administrator. After that, she worked in retail at Bed Bath & Beyond as a department manager in the bridal section. Presently she works at Whole Foods Market in Evanston. Melissa’s tips for starting a new job: “Learn as much as you can… The more you know the more valuable you are to the company… Always ask questions.”

Melissa wondered for a long time, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Her dad said in order for work to be your career, you have to make it something you’re passionate about, and Melissa has recently discovered she is passionate about the environment and making a difference. “I want to have a positive influence on the planet and other people, too,” she says. She is considering going back to school for environmental studies.

Cabrini Connections has been a part of Melissa’s life for as long as she can remember. “I feel like Cabrini Connections is in my blood in a sense.” Her dad, Bill Iwami, who is on our Advisory Council, used to be a tutor a long time ago at Montgomery Ward. This is also where he met his wife. Melissa says, growing up, her dad would come home from tutoring and say, “You have so many opportunities that you don’t take advantage of.” “He tried to instill that in me,” she says. “I have the ability and I should try to take advantage of it.”

For many years, Melissa has volunteered with her parents at our annual Golf Benefit. She was a tutor a few years ago and now she returns as a Volunteer Coordinator. Thanks for joining the team, Melissa!

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