By Brigid Morrissey

The stark contrast between her corporate IT career and her volunteer work in social services hasn’t fazed Micki Thomas. Upon retirement from her position with Yum! Brands, Micki has beautifully transitioned into helping fellow community members who are going through transitions themselves. Five years ago, a tour through the facilities of Volunteers of America, or a “journey” as the employees like to call it, spurred her into action and began a relationship that has affected many lives.

As a consultant and interior designer within the organization, Micki volunteers most of her 10-15 hours a week at the Freedom House, which focuses on pregnant women and their recovery from addiction. Micki’s eyes lit up like one of her pop art paintings when the subject arose. “One of the unique aspects of the Freedom House is that the women can bring their other children with them. You don’t see that at other places. I’ve continually been impressed with the staff and their track record of success.”

Micki designed these dorm style rooms with the purpose of giving residents a cozy and
lively environment they can enjoy. 

Micki has used her skill set in interior design and painting to first renovate the 12-bed residential center, then the six residential apartments in the downtown area. “The organization couldn’t afford to hire an interior designer. With my artistic background and experience, I wanted to provide this service for free. I wanted the living space to feel like a home, not an institution. Recovery is hard work, so I wanted to make the women and children as comfortable as possible.”

The common living room area of Freedom House 2. Photos by Patti Hartog

Because most of her time is dedicated to the Freedom House, Micki has felt most connected to its facilities and its revolving door of residents. But Volunteers of America has four areas of community services apart from addiction recovery, including veteran services, homelessness and housing, HIV testing and education, and services for the developmentally disabled. Most of Micki’s work has been in the Louisville area, although the organization is nationwide and the Louisville offices cover five states in the Mid-State region. “They’ve been in Louisville forever, but they fly under the radar. It’s a hidden gem.”

Established in 1896, Volunteers of America Mid-States has a reputation as one of the oldest and largest nonprofits in the region, so it doesn’t run short of grateful clientele and a knowledgeable staff who appreciate the volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to the cause. This time, when asked about the impact of the Freedom House on her life, her eyes welled up with unbridled emotion. “The other day, a staff member made up a story to get me to come to the Freedom House. When I got there all the women and babies surprised me with a party in the welcome area. It was their way to say ‘thank you.’”

The owl is the Freedom House mascot. One of the framed owls, includes the names of the donors who
contributed to the Freedom House 1 renovation in 2013. 

The best way to get involved is to follow Micki’s suit. You can sign up for a journey through its website in which you’ll take an interactive tour that gives insight on the scope of its mission and the people that it helps every day. There are other opportunities to volunteer with your corporation through impactful team building activities like outdoor landscaping, serving food at the homeless shelter, or playing and interacting with the children. You don’t need a certain set of qualities to make a difference, just come as you are. “The things I’ve done volunteering are so different than what I’ve done my whole career. It’s about the impact you’re making in the community and with individuals, and it’s such a different way to look at your work.”