Twenty years of accounting experience gave Evelyn Harris the skills and work ethic to excel as a Resource Development Associate with the Lake Area United Way for the past two years. Recently awarded as the 2015 Station Manager of the Year for her work with the Retired Senior Volunteers Program, her passion and gift for bringing out the best in others is what sets her apart.
“I was really shocked to see that I got it! I do what I do because I love the seniors. This was the first year this award was granted, and ‘lo and behold it was me!”
Leadership at Lake Area United Way noticed the combination of her bright personality and gift for performing arts along with her heart for connecting to others, and she became the unofficial “hype guy” at events.
“I process the pledges, thank you cards, solicitation letters, do the foot work for the donations, so that’s my role, but the thing I’m most proud of that I brought to the organization is…I am the Fun Police.”
When BMO Harris Bank and Stardust Bowling in Dyer held their annual bowling event, Harris dressed up as “Bopsie the Bowling Pin” and walked around making sure everyone had a good time. At the Brews in the Barn fundraiser at County Line Orchard, she was “Burpsie the Beer Bottle.” At first, it was something that Harris did just for fun. After her talent was recognized, it became part of her job.
“Now when we have an event they ask me to do it, they pull on the gift, and that’s what I love,” said Harris. “It’s nice to work with someone who says, ‘you’re good at this, let’s use it!’ The paperwork is what I do there, but that’s not all that I do there. Touching lives is what I really do there.”
Growing up, her family was musical. Being in the church choir was a natural expression of her talent. She encouraged her children to play, have talent shows and to dress up.
“We set up the living room, had fake names and put on a talent show. I wondered why I would make them do that, and I think it’s because, to me, it’s an easy way to bring out the gifts. People let their guard down when they are entertaining.”
One day she accompanied her daughter to a mime dance rehearsal where the instructor encouraged the parents to join along. The teacher noticed Harris’ natural ability, pointed her out and said “This is what you need to be doing.”
Harris began to have requests to mime at a variety of events, through church and even at some funerals.
“It’s a God-given gift,” said Harris. “I love to do the interpretive dance. I used to be quiet and really shy and timid with low self-esteem, but I think God gave me the dance thing because it helps me to express what I held in for years. It gives me the freedom to take every anger, pain and every negative energy, I put it in the dance and use it.”
Her experience of self-discovery and coming to terms with her own gifts and overcoming fear has created a passion for helping people overcome their own fears and finding their gifts.
“I am passionate about this stuff. I like arts and entertainment and all kinds of stuff like that. I think it brings out the gift in people. Sometimes you don’t know what’s in you. We have so many flaws, we look in the mirror and say I can’t do that. But when you put the mask on, you have freedom behind the mask to live from the inside out, to be the person God created you to be.”
“If you can do it with the mask on,” Harris said, “You can do it without. It's already there…it always was. It allows people to drop their guard. You may find a hidden talent, which is one of the things I love to do; bring out the hidden talent in people. To hear someone say ‘Wow, I can do that?’ I didn’t know I could do some things. There’s stuff in me now that I still don’t know about, I’m on a journey. I still don’t know what the end of this is. And I know that there is still some stuff in me that God has yet to reveal. So I do what I know now. I do what I know makes a difference.”
Harris stressed that everyone, no matter how different, has something to offer.
“Every encounter, I’m supposed to get something from you and you are supposed to get something from me, and I should be better when I walk out that door. At the end of the day, after I work an event, I feel good. I love to celebrate others, and it comes from a place of not being celebrated, of being left out; of feeling overlooked, and I don’t want anybody to feel like that, so no matter where I am or what I’m doing, if I’m at the bowling alley and there are people there, not even associated with our group I will reach out. It’s just what I do from where I’ve been. I truly believe that everybody has something to contribute, and I believe it’s my role to let them know that they are appreciated, that they are valuable, and what you do here is important.”
“That’s what God gave me. It’s the reason I do what I do.”
Harris has two children and resides in Crown Point with her husband. For more information about Lake Area United Way, visit www.lauw.org or call 219-923-2302.