Looking down on the street below, from her second-floor office – modern technology and all – Michelle Misener was on Cloud Nine.
“I thought I was on top of the world because I could look out onto Prince Street and I was the executive director and I was feeling pretty good,” said the recently retired head of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colchester.
“It was complete, with a Gestetner (pre-photocopier) and a VHS with big old red, green and yellow buttons on the front,” she said, with a chuckle, of the office equipment of the day.
That was 35 years ago. In a chat with the Truro News, one day prior to her retirement on Oct. 12, Misener said her feelings have not changed one iota since that first day.
“I was so honoured and thought I was so privileged to get that position,” she said. “I just felt so thankful … I had responsibility and a career that you could really get excited about because you were helping others.”
Misener grew up in the Yarmouth and Kentville areas and came to Truro in 1972 to work at the former youth training centre in Bible Hill as a senior counsellor.
After 10 years, she decided to take some time off to be at home with her two young children. One year later, however, Misener’s desire to be out in the working world won over and she ended up taking a temporary contract position as a case worker with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Shubenacadie.
Then, when the Colchester agency’s inaugural executive director, Bill Specer, decided to retire from the position, he encouraged her to apply.
The Colchester office is currently headquartered on Logan Street and has grown from three employees, when Misener began there in 1983, to a staff of eight today.
“I always felt like my job was to make sure everyone else could do their job,” she said. “I didn’t serve the children, per se, I enabled the agency to serve the children.”
That included coming up with programing ideas and the fundraising methods to pay for them.
One long-running fundraiser that Big Brothers Big Sisters had been conducting on a national level every year is the Bowl for Kids event. Although the event was always well supported by the local community, it also involved the onerous process of having bowlers collect monetary pledges.
For Misener’s team, however, that all changed five years ago, when she initiated the agency’s weekly Big Bucks 50/50 draw, which has become an unapparelled financial success.
“That really did change the landscape for us,” she said.
Big Bucks now generates an average of $10,000 per week for both the agency and the participants who purchase the $2-per draw tickets.
The success of Big Bucks not only eliminated the agency’s need to hold its other fundraising events, it also meant not having to seek community funding to assist with the recent purchase of the former Molly’s Dairy Bar as its future headquarters.
Although Misener will not be around to participate in that move, she leaves her position knowing the agency is on a sound financial footing with solid plans for the future.
And even after 35 years at the helm, Misener said she leaves the position just as happy as on her first day.
“I can’t think of very many people that just love their job. And I just loved the job every single day, because of the people. And I think that’s where the longevity came from, right. When you love your job and you love the people that you work with, it’s a pretty easy thing to get up in the morning and come to work,” she said.
“I still feel like I’m on top of the world. It wasn’t the location. It was the people …”
On mentorship - “The importance of mentoring has sort of driven me throughout my life … You are never going to have a day when kids don’t need mentors. It’s an important part of their life and sometimes a vital part of their life.”
Why retire now? -
“I’m all about serendipity,” she said, of the way things fell into place this month. “I love that kind of stuff.”
Misener retired on Oct. 12, which was also her 65th birthday. October marked her 35th anniversary as executive director, as well as the 40th anniversary for the agency in Truro.
What are her retirement plans?
Misener and her husband Eric are planning an immediate trip to England to visit their son Matthew and month-old grandson, who she has yet to see in person.
And next year, she expects to spend a lot of time gardening and doing related yard work.