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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Vickie Meyers hands out fliers Wednesday morning at the downtown Allen County Public Library.
IN The Lead/ Vickie Meyers

Turning back helplessness

Offering tangible assistance through United Way meets financial need

Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Brenda Richardson, left, picks up information and talks to Meyers at the United Way table. Meyers gives people in need the resources to get help.

Vickie Meyers knows what it’s like to feel helpless.

When the New Haven woman traveled south to help Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005 and 2006, she found herself wishing she could do more for those living amid widespread devastation.

It’s not unlike how Meyers feels these days when she talks to local people who are struggling financially. She also works with families who have lost their belongings to fires or floods. Meyers offers a sympathetic ear – and tangible assistance through the United Way – to those who ask for help.

“They have a sense of despair on what tomorrow will bring,” she said of many unemployed and underemployed residents. So many local folks have no family to turn to, she said, sending them into a “panic to find shelter, food, medical services.”

Tom Lewandowski described Meyers as relentless in her devotion to helping people.

“No one is more liked and more respected by unionists than Vickie,” said Lewandowski, president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Meyers recently agreed to talk about her leadership experience on the job and off with The Journal Gazette.

Name: Vickie Meyers

Title: AFL-CIO Community Service Liaison Director of Labor and Community Services, the local liaison between labor and United Way of Allen County

Age: 61

Family: Parents Marjorie and Richard Rodemeyer, who live in Allen County, and younger sister Tonda Robertson, who lives in Garrett.

What community groups have you been involved with in a leadership capacity?

Meyers has worked on hunger-related issues for years. In recognition of those efforts, she received the Father Tom O’Connor Community Service Award in 2008 through Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County.

Meyers was the first female president of Graphic Communications International Union Local 17M, which she joined during her 30-year career at Lincoln Printing. But most of her leadership has been linked to helping the poor and working with children.

For the past nine years, she has coordinated both the United Way and Organized Labor Community Health Fair and the annual picnic for the clients of Turnstone Center for Disabled Children and Adults. For seven years, the Fort Wayne woman has coordinated the local United Way’s Gifts in Kind program.

Meyers officiated at high school and college girls volleyball games for 12 years.

The 52-year member of Trinity English Lutheran Church is a former United Way of Allen County board member who has volunteered for church food pantries since 1969. She has volunteered for the National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive for 17 years.

What is your most recent accomplishment?

Meyers travels throughout northeast Indiana to talk to people who are losing their jobs through a layoff or plant closing. She lets them know what resources are available.

As liaison between labor and the local United Way office, she helps organize blood drives, food drives, health screenings and other events with civic and non-profit groups.

But Meyers emphasized it’s a group effort. She doesn’t claim success for herself.

Two recent events were highlights.

The National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive in May brought in more than 723,000 pounds of food for the needy. And the annual picnic for the clients and families of Turnstone drew more than 300 people in May.

“I am just a part of the multitude of workers/volunteers,” Meyers said. “Without them, I could not accomplish any of these events.”

What makes a leader effective?

The best leaders are passionate, trustworthy and caring, Meyers said. And they’re willing to be held accountable for their actions.

“An effective leader is a person with a passion for a cause that is larger than they are,” she said. “They have to have a dream and a vision that there will be a better society – or at least some portion of it – by our actions.”

What leadership traits do you value most?

Someone who will listen, empower others, generate trust and negotiate collaboratively.

What is the best leadership book you’ve read?

“Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute made a lasting impression on Meyers.

When you stop thinking about yourself and your goals and include the community in your priorities, everything you do can have a much greater impact, she said. That includes your professional and personal lives. But the book Meyers relies on more frequently for leadership examples is the Bible.

What are the best ways to overcome self-doubt?

“Know that you have good reliable relationships that you can trust and be open to (those advisers’) opinions,” Meyers said. “Stop comparing your accomplishments to anyone else.”

How do you manage your time?

Meyers creates a timeline or work plan at the beginning of each year. “That becomes the starting point of staying organized,” she said. She also sets priorities and avoids procrastinating because it only adds stress. Another tip? She checks her email only three times a day.

Who are your role models and why?

Meyers listed four women who had a profound influence on her despite how many years it’s been since she’s been in contact with three of them. The first one, in fact, she can remember only by her last name.

“I had an English literature teacher, Miss Daniels, who scared me to death,” Meyers said, adding that public speaking caused her anxiety. “If only I had thanked her for making us work so hard.”

“I had another teacher, Miss Charlotte Clark, who instilled a desire for us to help others,” she said.

Marylou Blinn, her third-grade teacher, also had a profound effect.

“If she hadn’t given me individual attention, I might not have finished school,” Meyers said about Blinn’s reading lessons. “I couldn’t get my hands on enough books after that.”

But the most lasting influence has been the one closest to home.

“If I can grow up to be the fireball my 82-year-old mother is, I should be just OK,” Meyers said about her mom, who will be 82 this week.

Describe one leadership challenge and how you resolved it:

Meyers has always had trouble saying no. But she learned that it’s OK to delegate.

“Trust your volunteers,” she said. “They will never let you down.”

What are your goals?

“My short-term goal is my upcoming retirement (in July),” she said. “I want to spend time with my family.”

Meyers, who has been offered several other jobs, is considering ways she can be a voice for those who don’t have one. She also wants to spend time with her union brothers and sisters.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

When she has some precious free time, Meyers loves spending it with family and friends.

She enjoys reading the Bible and various mysteries. Meyers also spends time marveling at nature.

sslater@jg.net

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