Whispers of Hope has a new coordinator to help guide the thrift store and community kitchen, as the organization looks ahead to challenges and a change of location in the coming months.
Melissa Shulga, a former Whispers of Hope Benevolence Association board member, accepted the position of coordinator in September. Shulga held a board position for three years, two of those as treasurer, when she left the board to take on the paid coordinator’s position.
Shulga has long lived in Grand Forks, she said, and was inspired to start working with Whispers when her mother, Kim McLellan, also a Whispers board member, got involved.
“When I heard about the kitchen, my heart was in it,” Shulga said. “I’ve always been interested in feeding people and sustainability of food, things like that, that was my passion, and seeing the cause behind it, the thrift store driving the kitchen, a homegrown charity where all the funds stay here.”
Shulga said her background is in business administration, and worked previously with Shambhala Music Festival in financial management and human resources. While in the past it hadn’t lined up for her to work with Whispers, she said she’s long thought it would be a cool job.
“I was sad to see Andre [Boruck] go, I was around, even though I was working out of town and volunteering here, and someone suggested I apply,” Shulga said. “I remember thinking two years ago that Andre had the coolest job. No day is the same, every day is challenging.”
As coordinator, Shulga’s job varies depending on the day, ranging from maintenance to grant applications to finances and monthly reporting. Whispers currently has about 30 active volunteers that work in the kitchen and thrift store, including the board.
“It is about being a conduit between operations, volunteers making things run, and the board. This big vision and trying to translate that into how do we best help people?,” she said. “Being someone to talk to when [people] don’t know who to reach. We can’t always be the ones to help, but we can connect them [with resources] and reach out, and that has been huge.”
Shulga said she acknowledges she’s taking the helm at a transitional period for the organization following an eviction notice served by the City of Grand Forks in August, but said she hopes she can help the organization develop with the community kitchen at the heart over the coming months.
“[I see myself] trying to be that rock. I have helped navigate change management before. It is difficult and overwhleming, and change can push people away and I would hate for that with Whispers,” Shulga said. “I see this as a positive opportunity for us to grow, unite, [and] I think I am a positive force that reminds people, ‘there is good to come of it and we are doing good things,’ keeping our eyes on the prize and feet on the ground.”