Missy Ivey grew up in Texas, where she learned southern hospitality and channeled her joyful exuberance into helping others. Missy shares stories of helping from the perspective of retail, working at a church, and starting her own business as a caregiver and all around helper.
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For the full transcript of this episode, read on below:
ANNOUNCER: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. You host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
SHARON/AD READ: Today’s episode was brought to you by VolunteerPro. VolunteerPro provides online volunteer management training, coaching, and community to volunteer leaders at all levels. Learn more at volpro.net.
SHARON: I’m Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, welcome back to Do Good, Be Good. This is my final episode of the first season. It has been a wonderful journey so far and I thank every one of you for listening. The show has seen a lot of support and I plan to launch Season Two in January. I will be back with a few mini episodes before then. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss them.
For new listeners, on this show we talk to helpful people from a wide range of backgrounds and we hear all different kinds of stories about the challenges people face when they try to be helpful.
On today’s episode I speak to my friend Missy Ivey. I met Missy while volunteering at the community theater here in Flagstaff, Arizona. Missy has been so involved in helping fields throughout her life that we did not even get around to talking about our theater adventures. We start with how Missy describes her giving nature.
MISSY: The way I sign correspondence is Joy and that has been what my life has been, has been great joy. So finding that joy, I want to give that joy. Some people, because I am kind of … what am I? Effervescent, over the top
SHARON: You use a lot of emoticons.
MISSY: … a lot of emoticons. Sometimes I think it just drives people crazy. I am sure it drives people crazy, but it is just who I am and I do think I was just born that way. Luckily it got channeled into something positive and sometimes it doesn’t. Some children are kind of whirling dervishes and don’t … and I think I was a whirling dervish, I do, but I found a way to channel it.
SHARON: I asked Missy about her childhood in Texas.
MISSY: It was a very, you know when I look back on it, it was very idyllic. Very 1950s… very 1950s.
SHARON: I don’t know if I know what that means.
MISSY: Well, there some movies… Mad Men, The Help, the Help was so southern. Corsicana was southern culture. And I think it started for me there, because Southerners, women especially, are very hospitable. That’s one of their trademarks, how hospitable they are. When I was growing up our house was very hospitable. My parents had parties there and groups. They were also interested in other cultures. I remember on my 10th birthday we had two women from India and they were there when I opened my presents. The thing they told me was, “You know that the ribbons would have been the gifts for children in India” and that really stuck with me. I looked at those ribbons and thought, “Really? Wow.” But my mom was very good at showing me things and making me aware of that. During the middle fifties there was so much going on internationally. Life magazine did pictorials of things that were international and my mother would open those for me and tell me what had happened to them, that they had a suitcase and that was all and had to leave a nice house and they were just trying to get out with their family.
SHARON: Missy goes on to share how her ideas about helping other countries translated once she had a chance to travel abroad on mission trips as an adult.
MISSY: I went to Zimbabwe, I took a mission trip over there and Guatemala also. That was really a situation where you hoped you could show how to be helpful. Interesting, in Guatemala, I lived there for a long time, several months; there was no sense of that even though they were in this small community. I know they would do anything for each other but they had never been shown how to reach out and look for things that needed to be done in their community. It was so interesting. One lady had a storefront, which is really the major retail there, is storefronts. Her storefront flooded and she lost everything. It was sole livelihood. I found out about it and I mentioned it to my family and some of their friends and said, “Would you like to go down there and try to pick up things?” She had construction paper she was going to try to reuse. They really puzzled. That was not a concept. I think they got it more in Zimbabwe, because in the situation I was in they were always working to take care of people out in the bush. They would get milk. They had a small dairy and they would serve milk at the school and then send milk out to the families and children would take milk home. There was much more of a community spirit of whoever needs help, we’ll help.
SHARON: I asked Missy about her understanding of where a giving spirit comes from.
MISSY: I do think that it is very important to get it from the outside so that someone can show you what giving is, however I do think that there is a personality that is very natural giving. I have often wondered if you can teach that. I did retail and I will tell you about that, but in retail they say, “Is a salesman born or is a salesman trained?” I believe that a salesman is born.
I started out in retail at fifteen in our little department store and I worked for this lady whom I adored, Ms. Spence. I would do anything for Ms. Spence. That was my first job and it taught me that work is really about service to others. Retail is, everybody thinks it is just hustle and bustle. People come in and they know what they are looking for and buy something and you ring it up. But if you are going to be in the service of people, you are going to be in contact with people. I loved that aspect of it. I worked for a really large department store. I was up in the offices. I put on events for the region. But at Christmas they had everybody, the buyers and the executives… everybody would go down on the floor and you would sell. It was without a doubt, my most favorite time of the year. The difference in going to the mall now and going to the mall then, is that it was packed with people. It literally was elbow to elbow and if you were going to a different part of the store you just had to push your way through. It was very overwhelming to people. I had a friend who I worked with and she loved to do this too. We would watch for someone who looked totally bewildered, often it was a man. I would just approach them and say, “What has brought you in today? It’s Christmas, are you doing some shopping?” We would just get in a conversation about what they were shopping for, what their likes were, where they lived. That was a real giving kind of opportunity also. I have had several years of retail and that’s what retail is for me. It is giving, from the time you meet them, you are with them. At that time, they didn’t just wander through and pick things up, there were honestly people who came up and said, “what can I help you with?” and took them wherever in the store they needed to go.
SHARON: One of my favorite first jobs here in Flagstaff was working at Mountain Sports downtown. That still has that feel, that downtown shopping district.
MISSY: It does.
SHARON: People are moving at a slower pace, it is not just about what they have to buy, but it’s about the experience. I loved it and I kind of miss it.
MISSY: I miss it to.
SHARON: And there were people from all over the world, because everyone comes to downtown Flagstaff. You were talking about service and people and taking care of people… I had this woman who just seemed so lost. It is not a big store and she was just wandering around kind of touching things but it seemed like she wasn’t sure why she was there or what was happening and I just went and check in on her. I asked just generally how she was doing. It was just us in the store. It was in the middle of the day on a weekday. She ended up just breathing this sigh of relief and telling me what was going on. It turned out her husband had been in the hospital for a month and they weren’t from here. They weren’t from here but he had had a horrible accident in the Grand Canyon and he had had this terrible infection and they had just decided they needed to amputate his leg.
MISSY: Oh my gosh.
SHARON: She had just needed a break from the hospital. She had come down and was just walking around aimlessly just trying to find a way to process what was going on. We ended up talking for 45 minutes or something. She just told me the whole story, where she was from, what was going on and yea, that’s the kind of thing that when you are paying attention to people rather than the job of selling something….
MISSY: That’s right.
SHARON: After many years in retail, Missy took a position working in a large church.
MISSY: I did ten years in nonprofit and was on staff at a large church. That was of course a huge world of giving. Sometimes people would just wander into my office and sit down and we would just have a conversation and it was just something, they needed to hear or say something and real often I wouldn’t have a comeback I would just listen. I listened to quite a few problems. I listened to a suicide person, marital, children, self. They didn’t come asking for me to do anything. So there was nothing I was supposed to perform or do right or wrong. The help that was needed was just to listen. Then of course, if there was something that could sort of wrap things up, if they were at a loss of what to do at the church, then of course we could talk about what they wanted to do and point them in the direction of some people who were like-minded.
SHARON: I was just talking to someone earlier for the podcast about being that empathetic listener.
SHARON: How do you find that balance between listening empathetically and giving them space to say whatever they need to say without necessarily absorbing all of the emotion?
MISSY: For me that’s not a problem. I do care deeply about them and they would certainly stay in my thoughts, my prayers, and I would check back with them, but it never did absorb. Maybe it’s because everybody has their own situations they are trying to work out and I don’t need to take somebody else’s on.
SHARON: That’s part of that having the personality that you are born with that allows you to do that.
MISSY: Yea, I think that is some of that.
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Now back to our show. During the Great Recession Missy lost her job and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. She had to figure out a new career. Missy references The Peaks in this story, which refers to a nice senior living facility in Flagstaff.
MISSY: What is the thing that you would love to do every single morning? And I thought I want to be of service to people. So I started a company called I Can Do That. I helped people with projects that they had. If I needed to take them to a doctor’s appointment or shopping or sometimes people were moving out of their house and they just couldn’t do it because they had been there forever and there was too much stuff, gardening, just about anything people would say, I wish I had somebody who could do that. And if I couldn’t do it I would find somebody.
SHARON: Who was your first client?
MISSY: My first client was this dear woman who… she and I became really close friends, but she said, “Well I think I could use you if you could come over and just do some light cleaning. I have some shelves that need to be reorganized”. So that’s how I got started with her. And I did put in a garden for her and she told me that the daffodils still come up, the ones that we planted. And I sort threw them out in her side yard and she said those are still doing great.
My most recent when I moved to Flagstaff, a couple who I knew had a family member who lived at The Peaks and they said, “Would you consider, taking care of him?” I said, “I will consider it”. It was a male and I had had females. I was not sure how that was going to go but I said “I’ll give it a try”. It was a tough road, because he had just… the opportunities he had had at The Peaks, he had not taken advantage of. He had just slept most of every day. Over time, we got out on the deck in the sunshine. Finally, we got out in the car. Now, he really loves to get out and about. I am so blessed, so blessed to have him in my life. We laugh and we have inside jokes. I have been there four years, every day, Monday through Friday.
SHARON: You said he was just lying in his room, so was he physically…
MINDY: No, he was bored. He was just bored and the caregivers… I will go on and say, they were younger. They were computer savvy and they came a few hours a day and they just stayed on their computers or on their phones and there was no trying to engage. So that was what happened with that. The family told me that. They said “We just don’t think he’s getting cared for really. We think there is somebody just babysitting him”. I get that, it’s been absolutely wonderful.
SHARON: Missy and I got to talking about how being helpful looks different in your personal life than in your professional life.
MISSY: Givers have a tendency to give advice really quickly, suggestions and advice and I am guilty of that. When you are listening to somebody else’s story it seems so clear to everybody else and not at all clear for the person that is going through it.
SHARON: That is funny because earlier you talked about being at the church and how it was possible to just listen without giving advice.
MISSY: Yes, exactly and I think I do more of the suggestions and jumping in when my friends are, you know, talking and I am like, “well, why don’t you do this” or “did you try this”, not so much in a professional listening… and especially at the church because that was a calm atmosphere. It was a closed door, a real conversation and at the end, as I said earlier, it might be how to connect them with somebody at the church, so that became an action. I don’t think in those professional situations I interrupt as much as I do with friends and family and people who are really close to me; I think they kind of expect it, no doubt.
SHARON: Well, that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good and thanks to everyone who has subscribed to this podcast. Of course a big thank you to Missy for sharing her story. If you have suggestions for next season, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be spending the holiday season preparing to launch season two in January.
For show notes on this episode, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. That is also where you can find the discount code for Volunteer Pro and more information about Do Good, Be Good.
Thanks as always to our host Sun Sounds of Arizona for the recording space. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G. Cohen, Released under a Creative Commons Attribution International License and discovered in the Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.