Running a successful nonprofit organization is definitely not easy, and not for the faint of heart. Providing valuable services to the community, developing programs that will enrich people’s lives, and doing so while on a very strict budget requires meticulous planning, careful thought, and a strong team of dedicated people with the talent and commitment to pull it all together and make it work.
Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of running a successful nonprofit organization is the ability to write compelling grant proposals and organize successful fundraising events. This is where an experienced development director is critical, and the La Porte County Family YMCA are proud to count Michelle Shirk as one of their own.
Shirk started at the Y in January 2016. Since that time, she has helped to secure grant assistance to help introduce LEGO STEM programming to local school age children, to help purchase new supplies and curriculum for the YMCA’s Childcare & Learning Center, help fund their chronic disease programs, and more.
Though her primary responsibilities are grant writing and fundraising, she also contributes to a variety of programs and events at the YMCA.
“I can't imagine being anywhere else,” said Shirk. “I feel very fortunate to have found an organization where I can do interesting, challenging, and important work on a daily basis while directly incorporating my family into my work.”
Born in Louisiana, Shirk’s parents moved to La Porte when she was in first grade. She attended Purdue for her undergraduate degree, then studied law at the University of Notre Dame. She started working at Newby, Lewis, Kaminski & Jones in 2006, before she even graduated from law school.
“I really enjoyed my work there,” said Shirk. “I am very grateful for my time there and have maintained close relationships with my coworkers since leaving. The legal knowledge and professional skills I gained while working as an attorney have been invaluable as I continue in my career.
Though she loved her time as a litigator, her desire to spend more time with her growing family drove her to pursue a different work/life balance. It was then that she began her career with non-profits.
“I ended up working part-time for a local nonprofit called READ LaPorte County Inc. I absolutely fell in love with the nonprofit world. The grant writing was very similar to some of the legal writing I had done, and I feel that my legal background helps to inform some of the things that we do from day to day. This is a job that I can have my kids involved with and I just absolutely love that,” said Shirk.
“We work really hard. We have over 8,000 members, we also impact people through our 11 different programs. Altogether, we are involved with up to 10,000 people, so there’s a lot going on at any given moment.”
Shirk is proud of her children’s involvement in the programs at the YMCA, with her daughter attending the Summer Camp and School’s Out day camp.
“She loves when she has a snow day and she can come to the Y!” said Shirk, whose son goes to Child Care and the Learning Center there as well.
“They come to special events, my daughter helped out for the first time as a volunteer at the Halloween party last year, she really enjoyed doing that. These are really awesome family events that we do here. I love that there’s not a typical day, it’s challenging and interesting work. There’s never a day that I feel goes by slowly.”
As such, she doesn’t spend much time at her desk.
“I might be there writing a grant request, or writing an impact story to share, but I also attend board meetings, or a health fair. I might be travelling to a pumpkin patch to take photos, it just really depends on the day.”
Although her family is deeply involved with the Y on a daily basis, they do find time to do other things, but they remain very close-knit.
“We do a couple family vacations each year, and we make it a priority to take occasional day trips to Michigan and Chicago so we can do different, fun things with the kids.”
Shirk says that her family enjoys taking advantage of Chicago museums as well as hiking trips in Michigan.
“We love Grand Rapids! We usually do at least one trip there a year, and we even took our daughter hiking in Holland State Park in Michigan.”
Shirk’s husband, Nick, works as an account executive with the banking technology firm of Jack Henry & Assoc. Married for 13 years, they share two children – son, Miles, is 2 ½ years old, and daughter, Evelyn, is six. They attend St Paul’s Episcopal Church in La Porte and love the sense of community she feels living in La Porte.
“We’re huge La Porte County fair fans! We go at least a few times each year. We love the parks here. We go to Garwood’s and pick raspberries and apples. We’ll take a picnic and visit the nature center on weekends,” said Shirk.
“My family still lives in the area, I have a very close relationship with my parents and love that my kids are able to spend time with their grandparents regularly,” says Shirk.
“I think we have a lot of great things to here locally, and we’re located within easy driving distance of even more great things. I love walking into a local coffee shop or restaurant, running into someone who knows me and wants to know how my family is doing and the Y and our programs. I love all these fun local things that I enjoyed as a kid and now I can do them right here with my own family. We are definitely proud La Porte residents and we’re looking forward to our seeing our children grow here in La Porte.”
Michelle Shirk is proud of her part in helping to make the La Porte Family YMCA, but more importantly, she is grateful for all the support that the Y receives from the community.
“It’s the support of our community partners that really makes it possible for us to introduce new programs, expand capacity, and enhance participants' experience.”
“I really feel like what we are doing makes an impact every single day. We have some programs and we serve people as young as six weeks old to seniors. We have some kids who go on a Y field trip and that’s the first time they’ve left the city and that’s very special for them. Or, we have adults that are exercising and they are getting stronger and making lifestyle changes that are improving their overall quality of life. We have special programs for cancer survivors and more. Knowing that I’m working on programs makes going to work every day very exciting.”
For more information visit the La Porte County Family YMCA online at http://lpymca.org or, better yet, stop in and see for yourself what the YMCA can do for you!