I am back to tell you about another outstanding employee at HAND. Her name is Michelle Westermeier and she is HAND’s housing coordinator. She is the mother of a ten year old son as well as the owner of a cat, two dogs, a turtle, a rabbit, a bird, and a fish! Westermeier’s favorite color is blue and she loves being a part of her son’s hobbies and interests.
Westermeier originally had a career in landscaping, working for the parks department in Anderson. While working there, she discovered her desire to help people. She loves working at a nonprofit organization, speaking to the fact that HAND has all that she desires in a job. When I asked her about her transition from landscape work to HAND she explained, “Even in the parks department I felt like I was benefitting the community as a whole because everyone gets to enjoy the parks. I was fortunate to be exposed to community development when I was in Anderson. I was also around construction, so I was familiar with that aspect of things. It was a fairly comfortable transition to shift to affordable housing.” Westermeier is proud of the work she is able to accomplish at HAND; being able to help so many people has been very satisfying to her.
I then asked her what about her job she loved, what made the hard work worth it. She immediately replied, “I want to be able to help people, and I get direct satisfaction from that. Meeting the residents that move into our rental communities, hearing their stories about how much this has actually helped them—it can be easy to be separated from that and not really hear those stories, so I really enjoy meeting our tenants and getting to know what their stories are. They’re all just so appreciative and wonderful.” She went on to clarify the benefits of HAND as an organization, saying that HAND has allowed her the opportunity to form personal relationships. Oftentimes businesses treat people as strictly clients, but the staff at HAND have been able to get to know the residents they serve and establish authentic relationships that mean more than a simple business deal.
Westermeier and I also got to explore some of the obstacles HAND is faced with. The misconceptions about affordable housing can often create misunderstandings. Westermeier explains, “There’s a mistaken belief that Hamilton County doesn’t need affordable housing and doesn’t need these types of programs for homeowners.” This can sometimes generate controversy and reluctance from neighbors to HAND projects. However, when HAND is able to educate its community on the housing issues, Hamilton County residents often embrace the organization’s programs. Westermeier went further to point out, “We all struggle from time to time with our financial situation. So really, to have a healthy community across the board, it’s important that we have affordable housing in all aspects. Regardless of what your income is, we all need affordable housing. It is too easy for people to assume that because we do have a lot of wealth in the county, that there’s not the need, there’s not those people struggling to make their monthly rent payments. It’s important to educate people, and I think HAND is one of the few organizations out there that has really been in a good position to promote that and increase that awareness.”
We ended our short interview with Westermeier clarifying the background of HAND. Many people become concerned about the motivations of a nonprofit, whether or not their intentions are to help the community. Westermeier says, “HAND is a true nonprofit. We weren’t a spinoff of some private, for-profit corporation. We were created by Hamilton County residents that were concerned about all the people living in this county. It’s a true, local nonprofit. With that, I believe we are part of Hamilton County and our passion and focus is for the benefit of everyone in our community.” With the creation of HAND came the creation of an organization aimed solely to aid its community. HAND works hard every day for the benefit of what they care about most: their neighbors.