Thomas lives to give
By Sadie Fowler
Michelle Thomas is driven by opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s in her own home or via her role with the MidSouth Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, where she serves as its senior manager of development.
Thomas, a native of east Tennessee who grew up splitting her time between the Volunteer state and Los Angeles (her parents divorced when she was young and shared custody), made a career shift into the world of non-profits nearly five years ago.
“I felt my time was of better service in the nonprofit world,” she said. “When I lived in L.A. I worked for a Jewish Seminary School and wanted to get back to the nonprofit world. I love going home at the end of the day and hoping that I accomplished something to change the world in any small way.”
Thomas graduated high school in California then moved back east for college where she graduated from MTSU with a degree in Mass Communications. She has one birth daughter, Jorie, who is 10, a foster son who is 10, and a foster daughter who is four.
Thomas said her main goal with her role with the Alzheimer’s Association is to create awareness about the disease, which is surrounded by many misconceptions and stigmas.
“It still has a stigma that I have to fight every day to change,” she said. “That has been the biggest challenge for me.”
Thomas begins her mission by educating people and bringing the disease to the forefront by helping coordinate support groups and events such as the Rutherford County Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She loves speaking to groups and encourages corporations to allow her the chance to come in to speak during lunch, where she can dispel the myths about the disease.
“I guarantee several employees at various companies are caregivers for their loved ones and employees do not know about it,” she said. “Being a caregiver is a difficult job, especially if you work full-time.”
Alzheimer’s Disease isn’t simply about “forgetting things,” she said. “Your brain will forget to tell you to swallow, or how to eat or how to breathe. It is not an easy disease for the person suffering but most times it is harder on the loved ones than the person suffering. You have to witness them going through it every day.”
Thomas, who said she cries once a week, maintains a great sense of empathy while also focusing on the task at hand. “You cannot work in this industry with these wonderful people and not cry. Crying is good. It helps me stay focused and makes me work harder … The day or week I am no longer crying, is when I should stop doing this job.”
Those feelings of empathy and a true sense to give back are at the core being of who Thomas is. Being a working, single mom requires her to rely on others for help. Also, laughing is as important as crying when it comes to getting through life’s challenges, she said.
“It takes a village,” she laughed. “Literally, laughing keeps me sane. I have been through a lot and I want to help lift others up who were down like I was at one point. I have a wonderful boss who understands this is my heart and I’m so appreciative of his willingness to allow me to be available to my kids. But I also surround myself with loving people who help me.”
Thomas, who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2010 and sought help immediately, said there is no shame in reaching out for help regarding mental and emotional well-being.
“Suffering in silence is not the answer,” she said, speaking about her own self-journey of healing after being violently assaulted several years ago. “(Getting help) allowed me to get back to the person I once was: thriving, loving life and not ashamed.”
As busy as she stays, she recognizes the need to reboot and unwind in order to keep herself charged up and able to give back. She enjoys shopping, traveling, and going on adventures with her children as often as possible.
“Nothing is typical with my life,” she laughed. “Sometimes we head east to visit family. Sometimes we just stay home because our week has been so hectic. But I try to take them to different places as much as possible so they can experience this beautiful canvas God has painted for us.”
Thomas encourages all who can to participate in Rutherford County’s next walk, set for Nov. 11, 2017. For more information, go to alz.org.