Powerful Women Let's Talk - 038: Melissa Werkman

Mar 22, 2021

Melissa Werkman

Melissa Werkman is the Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County, where she is part of a team committed to seeking justice for and reducing the traumatic impact of sexual abuse for child victims. She is also a partner in Green Square Consulting. She also is a mountain biking coach and especially loves helping people new to the sport feel more comfortable and safe on the trail so they can have even more fun.

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Full Transcript:

Produced by women about women. Powerful women Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live. Powerful women Let's talk is made possible in part by family fare keeping it real.

Shelly Irwin: Melissa Werkman is the executive director of the children's advocacy center of Kent County where she is part of a team committed to seeking justice for and reducing the traumatic impact of sexual abuse for child victims. In her spare time, She is a partner with green square consulting offering businesses advice and I quote,in her spare spare time She's a mountain biking coach, especially loves helping people new to the sport feel more comfortable and safe on the trail so they can have even more fun …work hard, play hard I bet. So, let's talk to you, Melissa Welcome to powerful women Let's talk.

Melissa Werkman: Hi, Shelly Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Shelly Irwin: Is not the art of riding safe on a mountain bike like the seat You know, at least comfortable.

Melissa Werkman: Yeah, Look where you want to go.

Shelly Irwin: Well, I know you also the title of world's coolest Grandma.. Also we'll get to that in a moment.

Melissa Werkman: Yes Yeah, well, I mean, I hope so,

Shelly Irwin: yes, we you are vying for that.

Melissa Werkman: I am vying for it.

Shelly Irwin: I must start with the tough question. If I may, why your career with much of your problem. Solving around sexual abuse in children.

Melissa Werkman:  Most of my life I have wanted to find a role like this. I had a fairly will say tumultuous childhood and really felt like when I was able to, I wanted to get to a place where I could advocate for other kids to ensure that they had a a bright future and were not impacted by any trauma or abuse that they experienced.

Shelly Irwin: So, with your past Do you seek out when I am over 40, I want to be an executive director of the children's advocacy center.

Melissa Werkman: Well, you know, I say this was the job that…

Shelly Irwin: you may not be over 40.

Melissa Werkman: well, I’m well over 40 but Thank you for wondering. No, I say this was the job that would not go away. I was not necessarily even looking when this job opportunity presented itself to me and actually couple of women in the community. Powerful in, you know, in and of themselves Meg Der and kim Mclaughlin reached out to me and said you really should think about this position that is open at the children's advocacy center. And I was like, well, you know, not really looking right now and they are like, no, you really, really think you should take a look. And the more that I looked at it, the more it sort of pecked away at me. And as I began to meet people there. The board, the staff the partners and got to know more about their work. It turned. It went from a job that I was like, you know, to .. if I do not have that job, I am going to be really disappointed because their work was just so impactful and really resonated with me and I wanted to be a part of it.

Shelly Irwin: Yet. Not all jobs are recommended. How does one discover their true passion and their true calling?

Melissa Werkman: Listening to themselves. You know, especially I think as women even still today. I think in many places in parts we are raised to do what is right and what is expected of us and many times. That's in conflict with what our hearts really want and I have really been grateful that I've always had to kind of figure things out on my own, but that there's a lot of beauty that comes with that because I've been able to kind of chart my own course and say yes to things.

Shelly Irwin: ever said no?

Melissa Werkman: no, not to the right things.

Shelly Irwin: You also offer business and nonprofit some unique advice. What's this nitch?

Melissa Werkman: Yes, informally for years. I have spent most of my career in nonprofit leadership in some form. People kept reaching out to me on the side for advice and support and I always say I'm happy to share with you what I have learned not to do and so then my partner in green square consulting and I worked together on a few projects when I was in my former role and he's also a nonprofit director and we kept saying Mike, you know, there is really something here like as nonprofit leaders. This this work is lonely. It is often unchartered and then we are also looking at businesses, particularly small and midsize businesses. Who wanted to make a meaningful impact in their community beyond a profit? Really, how can how can we put something together where we are supporting the work of nonprofits and small businesses helping them to build healthy resilient teams but also have a cross impact on each other and then on their communities. So that's what green Square was born out of.

Shelly Irwin: much of your work is teamwork. How do you lead in what do you look for in your leaders?

Melissa Werkman: I cannot help but be a 100% myself. So, I would like to say that I lead with transparency and vulnerability. I really feel like my job as a leader is to be. I often compare it to a conductor. What I have a beautiful Symphony of people on our team that are really committed to our work. And so it's my privilege to be able to help them produce the best Music and the, the best product in the best services, if you will, and products A terrible word to use,But the the best services,

Shelly Irwin: yes, wonder who your best trumpeter is.

Melissa Werkman: Yeah,  be the best version of who they are so that they can better serve our clients. Really

Shelly Irwin: How can we beat the cycle of sexual abuse in our kids.

Melissa Werkman: It first has to start with innate acknowledgement that it occurs in our neighborhoods, in our communities and in our backyards and sometimes in our front yard, sometimes in a lot of the time in our own homes. We first have to acknowledge that and then we have to acknowledge that it is going to require response not just from the children's advocacy center of Kent County. But from every parent business nonprofit faith-based organizations, schools, medical provider, and everybody needs to get around it. It is a massive problem, and it is going to require a massive effort.

Shelly Irwin: How can the community help children's advocacy center of Kent County.

Melissa Werkman: The community can help by being advocates themselves. I think but most importantly, listening to children if children, If there is a child in your life that discloses abuse or whom you expect is being abused. Please call. There is a central intake 1-800 number through dhhs. But you can also go online, please do that or call law enforcement and make a report. I know a lot of people get caught up in. Well, I am not sure if it actually happened and, I don't want to make things worse if it didn't. The good news is it is not your job to decide if it happened. It is the job of law enforcement and child protective services and the courts. Not yours. So please report it. You may be the only adult that listens to that child and you may make a huge difference in their life.

Shelly Irwin: When did you jump on your first mountain bike.

Well, I've been riding bikes since I was, I was 4 years old before I could even ride a bike. I ran away from my babysitter’s house to go home and, get my brand new bike that I couldn't quite ride yet because I loved it so much. And I grew up in rural Maine. So, we made our own trails. So, I would say for my entire life. But mountain biking specifically as an adult probably for about 14 years.

Shelly Irwin: yes, obviously Fostering your love of the out of doors. How do we get more girls into sports?

Melissa Werkman: We are role models for them. You know, kids. I think everybody are more inclined to try something if they can identify with other people who are doing it. And you know, we really need to ensure that as weekend warriors or serious athletes or anybody that when we are out there that we're demonstrating the love of it and the fun and we're encouraging, and we're open to other people trying. And you know, we are not leaving people out by showing up with really expensive things in talking in terms that don't mean anything to the broader population or we're showing people up or were being bad stewards of the trail or having poor etiquette and being bad sports. That is not helpful to anything or anyone.

Shelly Irwin: and you name, your bikes, right?

Melissa Werkman: you name your bikes.

Shelly Irwin: I am going to go into some light Melissa fodder, an odd fun fondness for bland foods or you like a white rice advocate here?

Melissa Werkman: you know what, I actually really love spicy food, but I did grow up in New England. And you know, we have a long, long, long tradition of pretty mainstay foods and diet and very practical foods that were, you know, hearty and oftentimes our spices growing up were salt and pepper.

Shelly Irwin: Im thinking in New England, clam chowder.

Melissa Werkman: clam chowder sure, you know, baked beans. A lot of a lot of bland food Shelley but very practical foods and foods that we are going to keep you nourished if you're out, you know, fishing in the ocean or farming. The land or logging in the woods or otherwise exploring. so, I lived in the Southwest for a long time, and I love spice and I love heat and peppers. But I will say that the most comforting foods to me are the foods my grandmother used to make, and my grandmother grew up in the Depression and in, so they were there things like this dish called milk toast. It was literally just…

Shelly Irwin: that is a saying with a whole other conversation.

Melissa Werkman: But it was just it is just like a white sauce with toast broken up in it and butter and salt and pepper into me when I'm not feeling well. Really down. I want to eat just a big bowl full of milk toast.

Shelly Irwin: Go girl. My next light fodder, a wicked stubbornness to endure discomfort. We could take this seriously or comically.

Melissa Werkman:  Also traced back to my roots in Maine. We are a Hardy people. I love to put myself in situations that are uncomfortable. And I think that, you know, that is reflected in, you know, having been in endurance into endurance sports for a lot of my life or I really love a rainstorm or really cold blowy winter day. Love to go out on my bike and run the least comfortable. The better for me. I love to be out in that and know I can make it through that and then come inside and enjoy the warmth or a shower or coffee.

Shelly Irwin: All of the above.

Melissa Werkman: Yeah.

Shelly Irwin: And you do aim to achieve the title world's coolest Grandma. I think our conversation leads you there.

Melissa Werkman: I do I do. I was fortunate blessed to become a grandmother. Probably quite early comparatively speaking. And certainly, earlier than I anticipated, but I have a 6 year-old granddaughter Delilah, who is the apple of my eye. And so, I want to ensure that, you know, I'm up to snuff and you know, in so much as coolness goes.

Shelly Irwin: You are highly skilled at delivering the best slash worst puns. Was there a history to this?

Melissa Werkman:  No, I think probably if any of our staff are listening to this. They will groan when they hear that I really do love the opportunity for a pun often times you'll know that I had thought of one because I double over and start laughing 5 minutes before I can spit it out and I think I'm funnier than everybody else. I am sure. So that is a good indicator.

Shelly Irwin: in your love for adventure. But yet strongly fears Heights ,strongly. I mean, you're encountering snakes. Bears or alligators on a trail.

Melissa Werkman: Yeah. I have a goal of I want to ride my bike in every state. I want to start with the U.S. but then move that on internationally and have been fortunate to ride in a lot of really amazing places. I do. I legitimately have a fear of encountering snakes, bears, and alligators. I do not let it hold me back. But it is really uncomfortable for me.

Shelly Irwin: Yeah. a fast rider you are. We laugh. We joke. Does humor play a part in your day job?

Melissa Werkman: It has to. Yeah. The work that we do is heavy and its often times unimaginable and it's Horror and impact and So, you know, part of part of my job is to help ensure that our team stays healthy and they take care of themselves and that we laugh a lot and that is a critical part of not only doing our work well, but surviving our work.

Shelly Irwin: Anything. Any direction you would change thus far in your journey.

Melissa Werkman: You know, no. I mean, I certainly made a lot of mistakes. But I often think everything else is just like the icing on the cake. I have been able to do a lot of really amazing things. Amazing to me and experience a lot of different things because of the roles that I have had in the opportunities I've had but also in the people that I've met and the places I've lived. So, no.

Shelly Irwin: In between mountain biking business consulting eating wife mom Grandma, reading books. You have to recommend?

Melissa Werkman: oh I have a million to recommend right now I'm reading the 4 wins is about a family from Texas during the Great Depression and dust Bowl and they migrate to California. And it is really a lot about poverty in systems and ecology and whole big bunch of things being a mom and being a single mom, being a strong woman. It is resonating with me in a lot of ways I am thinking a lot about systems lately in poverty and the impact on a community and our kids I recommend that. But I could give you 4,000. Books that I love I love to read.

Shelly Irwin: Well thank you for joining us on this edition of powerful women lets talk Melissa Werkman.

Melissa Werkman: Thank you for having me.

Shelly Irwin: and thank you for listening. I’m shelley Irwin.


[outro] Produced by women about women these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women Let's talk ? additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women Let's talk is made possible in part by family fare. Keeping it real. It is produced by wgvu at the Myer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed on this program Do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.