As a Chief Financial Officer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada, Giving Society Member at Three Square Food Bank, and a volunteer at various local nonprofit groups, Michelle Eckmann dedicates herself to making our community a better place.
1. What inspires you to give back to our community?
An awareness that many people in our community working full-time or more still don't earn a living wage or enough to support their families. MIT's Living Wage calculator lists $28.82 per hour as the living wage in Clark County for a single parent with two children. That's what's needed to afford childcare, food, housing, transportation and medical costs. Through my job at Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada, I see every day the sheer volume of families in our community that earn far less than that and need an affordable safe and positive environment for their kids after school and during the summer as well as resources like Three Square Food Bank to ensure access to food. I've always felt an obligation to help as the resources that I have are as much a function of luck, privilege and access to good education as they are of hard work.
2. How did you first learn about Three Square?
I've volunteered at local food banks in every city where I've lived. I actually started volunteering with a small backpack meal program out in Henderson shortly before I moved here in 2008. I was pestering Three Square to let me volunteer pretty much the day they opened their doors. I've been able to volunteer filling backpacks, sorting and bundling produce, packing boxed lunches, helping at fundraisers and cooking meals at agency partner Shannon West Homeless Youth Center. For a couple months this spring, I did the grocery shopping for a local nonprofit's meal program and doing that at Three Square was truly a full-circle moment in my life.
3. How is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada partnering with other organizations in ensuring kids are receiving the resources and tools needed to reach their full potential?
Our partnership with Three Square allows our members to access meals during the school year with Kids Cafe®. These meals provide more than just an after-school snack, for many of our kids it's the only meal they will have at the end of the day. It helps them focus when it comes to Power Hour and doing homework, and it also provides them with healthy choices.
During the summer, many kids lose access to free and reduced meals they receive at school. Our local Boys & Girls Clubs have partnered with Three Square on their Meet Up & Eat Up (Summer Food Service Program) to help bridge that gap. We have five feeding sites at our Clubs that are open to kids up to 18 years old, providing breakfast and lunch to any kid who comes into the Club.
While we focus on quality programming, creating a safe and positive environment, and providing meaningful opportunities for kids, thanks to our partnership with Three Square we do not have to worry about getting nutritious food to our members. Also, we can provide families with access to additional resources such as food pantries and other services.
4. What does a hunger-free Southern Nevada look like to you?
In a different context, I often talk about how it's easier to make good, longer term-focused decisions when the fear of a lack of resources isn't a factor in the decision-making process. When basic needs like food are fully met, families can more fully focus on the future, including ensuring the best education and opportunities for their children.
I volunteer at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center quite a bit, mostly preparing meals and tutoring the youth studying for their diploma, GED/HiSET or SAT/ACT. That's a small microcosm where you can see what people can achieve when they're able to focus on job training, learning and life skills because their access to basic needs like shelter, food and medical care is stable.
5. What advice would you give to others who want to give back but are unsure of where to begin?
Just start. Find a nonprofit that addresses a cause that you care about. Check out their website to find out what they need help with and how to get engaged as a volunteer or donor. Sometimes you can fill a need with a specialized skill set, but many times you are just an extra set of hands – both are important. Community service organizations like Junior League and the Hands On network are also a great way to get engaged and meet like-minded people who care about the community.