The woman at the helm of Mutual Ground Inc. in Aurora – a place for women seeking refuge from domestic violence and support following sexual assault – started as a summer intern in 1999.
“It was before I graduated from Eastern Illinois University,” said Michelle Meyer, who has been executive director at Mutual Ground for the last four years. “I majored in health studies. Domestic violence and sexual assault are both health issues.”
In nominating Meyer as an Everyday Hero, Rebecca Laudati, coordinator of victim advocacy at Mutual Ground, wrote: “Michelle works every day to bring awareness to the community about domestic violence and sexual assault … . Michelle is a strong leader that sacrifices every day to keep services available, her staff employed and the community aware. She is a hero.”
As part of her leadership at the shelter, Meyer is a relentless advocate to seek support and funding so the agency can continue providing vital services, Laudati wrote.
“She will be in the office one minute, and the next she is out in a parade or talking to legislators about money and programs in Springfield,” Laudati wrote. “Mutual Ground is a 24-hour agency, and Michelle is advocating most of these hours and she is always positive.”
Meyer shows her passion for the agency, now in its 40th year, in other ways as well, Laudati wrote.
“She is compassionate about making sure survivors and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are treated with respect and kindness,” Laudati wrote.
Meyer oversees a budget of $1.8 million and a staff of 50.
Over the course of a year, Mutual Ground provides services to about 1,500 domestic violence victims and more than 300 victims of sexual assault, and takes more than 1,500 calls to the hotline every month, according to its annual report.
The agency has helped clients get more than 350 orders of protection and has provided more than 7,500 nights of emergency transitional shelter. And its prevention education program is in 1,750 classrooms in southern Kane and Kendall counties.
And yet, rather than see these numbers as depressing or discouraging, Meyer, 36, of Aurora, said her job is very rewarding.
“The most gratifying thing about what I do is I get to watch somebody transform,” Meyer said. “I watch a client come through the doors crying and then leave with her head held higher. It’s the most amazing thing. I’m very fortunate to have this job.”
As to the nuts and bolts of getting enough money to keep the doors open and providing services, Meyer said she attends a lot of events.
The agency just held its seventh annual Walk for Hope in October, not only to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault, but to raise money for the cause.
“That’s the thing about this position,” Meyer said. “There’s lots of fundraisers. Lots of things on weekends, lots of networking. I was in Springfield [in September], then I was talking to legislators at an open house. I’m very all over the place.”
The Meyer Lowdown
Who she is: Michelle Meyer, executive director of Mutual Ground Inc.
Town of residence: Aurora
Hobbies: Walking the dog, bike riding, hanging out with friends
Fun fact: “My favorite tea is Sleepytime Tea. I need it most nights.”