Interview with Michelle Gonzales: A Dedicated Life

4 Oct

I sat down with Michelle Gonzales from Seesaw Studio for a quick interview. Well, it turned into a two-part writeup. What can I say? We chatted about the program, successes, hopes, Michelle’s past, and why she’s driven to help teens realize their success. Let’s get into Part 1.

Walking into Seesaw Studio you get a sense this is a special place. You can feel the hopes and dreams of past students. Each workstation, scarred and marked up, tells a story of the budding teens who’ve become successful young adults under the program. Seesaw is a free after school studio that teaches teens from all walks of life the design and entrepreneurial skills they need to create success for themselves and their families.

To put it simply, in Michelle’s words, “…is to provide teens with the tools for future success.” She goes on to say, “Not everyone of them will become a designer. Some may become vets, doctors, or chemists, as some have over the last eleven years. What we give them are the basics—how to talk to people, how to think through a problem, how to produce, and how to think beyond their six blocks.” Pride and passion are flashing in her eyes now, “If they get nothing else out of it, then I’ve done my job.”

From the first moment you meet Michelle, it’s apparent that she gives everything to the kids who walk through the door at Seesaw. She’s one of the good people you read about—the ones who are changing lives in their communities

Before coming to Seesaw, Michelle worked all around the “non-profit mafia.” She’s been an AIDS activist, worked in AmeriCorps, and started the DIG (Durham Inner-city Gardeners) program at SEEDS.

Executive director at Seesaw for the past 3 years, Michelle has increased the enrollment from 2 when she started in 2007 (dark days for Seesaw) to around 30 today. For her, Seesaw is a way to give what wasn’t available to her.  “Every time I come here I feel so privileged to be able to offer this up.”

It becomes apparent later in the interview why working with teens is so important to her. “My mother died of AIDS and I took care of her during my teenage years. I guess that’s why a lot of my work has focused on teens, because I didn’t get to be one.” There’s a pause here as we both reflect on her introspection. Then she lightly adds, “Some people say I’m still trying to be one.” Laughter cuts through the pause and we continue.

Two moments where touchstones in the interview. One was talking about her past and the other was the pride and sheer joy in her eyes when talking about kids graduating from the program. “What’s the best part about the job,” I asked? She just lit up. “The beginning…and the end. There’s just so much hope and potential on their faces when they walk through the door for the first time. And also the end. To see them walk out a different person – confident and ready to take on the world.” It became obvious that those two emotions came from the same place in her heart.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of the interview where we dive into the programs, successes and what Michelle needs most at Seesaw Studio.

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