FERNDALE – For Alyssa Atkinson, volunteering is therapeutic.
“I’ve had problems in the past with depression and anxiety and I sometimes will find it hard to go out and do things with people because I get frightened of talking to people,” Atkinson explained. “Volunteering has almost cured me of that. It allows me to get out of my head and makes me speak to people. So I feel it’s a little selfish sometimes. I do it because it helps me. But I do pick causes that are important to me so that’s part of it, too.”
Atkinson volunteered for the first time while in college at Central Michigan University, where she earned a bachelor’s of science degree in community development. “I volunteered for something called Conversation Partners where foreign exchange students would come here from Korea and I would show them around,” Atkinson recalled. “I did it because I wanted something to put on my resume and it sounded really fun. And it was.”
Once she had finished college, Atkinson, now 27, came back to the Ferndale area she had grown up in and became actively involved in the community. By day she is the special assistant to Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash. But her work does not end when she leaves the office. Atkinson is the fundraising chair for Ferndale Pride, and she also volunteers for Ferndale Youth Assistance and MAC Health (formerly the Michigan AIDS Coalition) among others.
In April, she received a Good Neighbor = Strong Community Award from the Citizens for a Fair Ferndale group. “It was the first and only award that I’ve ever won,” said Atkinson. “I really, really love the city. I always knew when I went away to college I wanted to come back and help the city. It was really amazing to me to be honored for doing something that I love.”
Though straight, Atkinson was raised by a lesbian mother and fighting for LGBT rights and equality is definitely important to her. “It was something that was a part of my life and affected me,” she said. “And just growing up in Ferndale, I met a lot of people in that community who became people who were important to me and that I cared about.”
Atkinson was thrilled when Julia Music, event chair for Ferndale Pride, offered her the chance to head up the fundraising committee. “The stars just really aligned and the first time we met we just hit it off,” she said. “They had a few fundraisers in place when I started and then we created some new ones and I just really ran with it.”
Thanks to Atkinson’s hard work, Ferndale Pride now does a tin can raffle at Rosie O’Grady’s, a dining fundraiser at Zeke’s Rock And Roll BBQ and a Hot Daddies Contest at SoHo.
“Alyssa is a tireless volunteer,” said Music. “She has raised close to $10,000 for Ferndale Pride as the fundraising chair. She encounters every volunteer with a smile and excitement. Her energy is contagious. She’s a role model showing all of us how acting locally can make a huge impact on our communities.”
AIDS is another cause close to Atkinson’s heart. “That’s what my grandfather passed away from when I was very young,” said Atkinson. “He was a Baptist preacher and he worked for Chrysler and he couldn’t tell anybody why he was sick. His family disowned him. They wouldn’t let him sit on their couch or use their bathrooms so I just felt very sad. I don’t want anybody else to ever go through that.”
Whatever the cause, Atkinson said she just likes helping people. “I had no idea when I was younger that you could go into trying to make the world a better place and it’s really wonderful,” she said. “I’m so glad that I’ve made that my purpose. All of a sudden I’m doing all of the stuff that I wanted to do, and it’s really cool. I feel lucky to be doing what I do, and to be recognized for that is great. I feel really lucky.”