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Finding ways to help others rewarding

Giving your time and energy to others can be its own reward.

“I really believe that we’re at our best selves when we are serving others,” says Nicole VanGorder, COO and co-founder of Upstate Special Needs Planning. “I feel good when I’m doing that.”

VanGorder is just one of the Rochester-area career women who enjoy the feelings that come from giving back. Their generosity can take many forms.

Veronica Dasher, Manager of Community Outreach & Development for Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., enjoys guiding co-workers as they strive to advance in the company.

Veronica Dasher

Veronica Dasher

“I have had incredible mentors professionally,” she says. “It’s important to share that mentorship, and the lessons learned, with others.”

After a man who was working in RG&E’s call center was repeatedly turned down for better jobs, Dasher gave him some of the tips and tricks she’d learned.

“I actually did a mock interview with him to help him prepare for upcoming interviews,” she says.

Since Dasher mentored him, the man has tried out for two promotions—and gotten both of them.

Dasher also gives back in a different way—as the head coach of her 10-year-old daughter Jael’s cheerleading team. The team is part of the Brighton Junior Barons, an all-volunteer nonprofit that offers youth the opportunity to compete in cheerleading and on the gridiron—her son, 13-year-old Jaden, plays football for the Junior Barons.

Since she began coaching her team about three years ago, Dasher has spent hundreds of hours a year guiding her young charges.

“As a coach, you have a huge opportunity to impact these young women in ways that are transferrable outside of their sport,” she asserts.

Nicole VanGorder

Nicole VanGorder

VanGorder has given to others at many stages of her life and career.

Upstate Special Needs Planning specializes in developing financially sustainable lifecare solutions for families that have members with special needs. While helping to run the company, VanGorder created The Social Exchange, a Meetup group that gives adults with special needs a place to socialize.

VanGorder also sits on a number of local boards, including that of the WXXI Public Broadcasting Council, and is Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Mental Health Association of Rochester. Such roles bring their own rewards.

“When meeting other people, or just having different experiences out of your typical day-to-day activities, you’re opening your mind,” VanGorder explains. “It allows you to think differently.”

Jeanette Batiste-Harrison has long been drawn to giving her time and energy to worthwhile causes.
“One of the most powerful ways to show someone you care is to give them your time,” she says. “It’s such a precious resource.”

Batiste-Harrison co-founded Batiste Leadership with her father, retired Army Major General John Batiste, and shares the leadership of the firm with him.

Service runs deeply through Batiste-Harrison’s family. Her maternal and paternal grandfathers made careers in the US Army, as did her father. Batiste-Harrison, a self-proclaimed “Army brat,” gained the rewards of serving others while in high schools in Germany and Italy, where she joined other classmates on service projects in Estonia and Lithuania.

“It left a very big impact on me—something I’ve never forgotten,” Batiste-Harrison says.

Upon graduating from college, Batiste-Harrison served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa where she worked on a community-based natural resource management program. When her stint with that organization finished, she stayed on in that community, performing the same type of work for two nonprofits.

Upon returning to the states, Batiste-Harrison took a position with Foodlink, which is dedicated to fighting hunger and building healthier communities in the Rochester region. By 2015, she was the nonprofit’s Co-Executive Director. That year, she joined with her father to form Batiste Leadership.

“We help organizations to build high-performing teams defined by decentralization and empowerment,” Batiste-Harrison explains. “Our work focuses on strategic planning, leader development and team building.”

The shift to the for-profit world forced Batiste-Harrison to undergo a kind of transition.

“I … felt disconnected from one of my values, which is service value,” she explains. “How do I stay plugged into this?”

Batiste-Harrison—and her firm—have “plugged into” service to others through pro bono work for such nonprofits as the Willow Domestic Violence Center.

“We give of our time, talent, energy, resources to help advance different nonprofits’ missions and help support nonprofit leaders,” she says.

Can anyone give back to their community? Batiste-Harrison makes it sound easy to find a way to do so.

“If you set out to find the opportunity, the opportunity will arise.”

Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.


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