Michelle Adams works as a senior telecommunications engineer, but she also is a passionate volunteer at Anderson Animal Shelter in St. Charles Township, working with dogs and cats and using her photography skills to benefit the shelter.
It all started with a fundraising effort at the Elgin grocery store near where she lives, she said.
"They were asking for change. I went to my car and emptied what I had," Adams said. "They said, 'We can always use volunteers.' I'm at the shelter at least 20 hours a week doing anything that they need, helping with feeding, cleaning, walking – anything the kennel staff needs me to do."
Her devotion over the last four years prompted Holly Alcala, director of development for the shelter, to nominate Adams as an Everyday Hero.
"Michelle is a foster parent, taking in cats and dogs until they are ready to be placed up for adoption," Alcala wrote in her nomination. "Based on her time spent at the shelter and her knowledge of the organization, Michelle has earned the status of team leader, which allows her to assist with adoptions."
Adams does photography as a hobby, but also uses it for Anderson's website, marketing pieces and Facebook page, Alcala wrote. Adams also volunteers for special projects and fundraisers, such as the recent Pets-a-Palooza event, which attracted some 3,000 visitors, Alcala wrote.
In addition to helping visitors find a good match in a new pet, Adams said she and other volunteers work with traumatized animals to get them to trust people again.
"I try to work [with] the scared little dogs, scared big dogs, any dog or cat that's shut down," Adams said. "They can be really bad and nasty when they come in because they are so scared … . When you see a dog that is so shut down and then they are in a home and everybody's happy, they become who they are."
She fosters Chihuahuas at her home and admits it is hard to see them go when they are adopted out – but those who have adopted "her" dogs send updates.
"A lot of times, I'll take them home for a few nights. I've had some for weeks or a couple months. It really depends on the situation. When they are adoptable, I put them in the main kennel so they can be seen," Adams said.
Not all of her fosters find other homes. When she fostered two kittens, she kept one.
"We've had more than 1,500 adoptions so far this year, and we would never be able to do that if we didn't have the very extensive foster database that we have," Adams said. "It's critical. Our shelter is only so big. ... Fosters allow us to take in more that we don't have space for in the shelter."
Anderson Executive Director Beth Drake praised Adams' efforts on behalf of the shelter's animals.
"Michelle’s dedication to our organization and the animals we serve is outstanding," Drake wrote in an email. "She truly is a leader among the entire volunteer group and hero among us all. We applaud her efforts – as well as all of our volunteers, who give their time and talents."
The Adams lowdown
Who she is: Michelle Adams, a volunteer at Anderson Animal Shelter
Town of residence: Elgin
Family: Parents and cousins
Hobbies: Anderson Animal Shelter, photography and graphic design at the shelter
Fun fact: "I used to volunteer for Cook County Crime Stoppers, going into high-crime areas to encourage people, if they have tips, to call the hotline."