I first came into contact with Michelle last year when I volunteered to produce a video for the nonprofit she works at, Brain Injury Services. After becoming involved in the project, I quickly began to understand why Michelle excels as BIS’s Director of Volunteer Programs. She is an incredibly warm person and one of the nicest people I’ve ever volunteered for. Her passion and dedication shine through in everything she does and I know that her work has a significant impact on the lives of her clients, volunteers, and the community at large.
What is your name, age, and location?
Michelle Bicocchi Thyen, 35 years old, Northern Virginia.
What is your profession?
I am the Director of Volunteer Programs for Brain Injury Services. BIS helps children and adults with a brain injury build the skills and confidence they need to lead a productive and fulfilling life.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
What was your first job?
My first job was program manager for Best Buddies International, a nonprofit dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one to one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
My senior year of college, two students became ill with meningitis and I was the third. While sitting in a hospital bed after surgery and weeks of iv antibiotics, I had an overwhelming “a-ha” moment. After missing all of my corporate interviews for marketing positions in various states, I realized that the work dearest to my heart was precisely what I did throughout college when I WASN’T being paid to do it. I recognized that my volunteer work with people with disabilities was my passion. It was then that I knew there was a reason for everything. A few months later, I started on my career path in the nonprofit sector and have not looked back since.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
For the past 8 years, I have had the honor of creating and facilitating the Speaker’s Bureau of Brain Injury Services. The Speaker’s Bureau is comprised of a group of adult survivors of brain injury who go out into the community to inspire and educate audiences about their journeys with a disability. I have watched this group of people take these very tragic situations and transform them into a means for positive change. Their stories have motivated hundreds and hundreds of people to take a look at their own lives, as well as the way they view people with disabilities. I feel a true sense of fulfillment and satisfaction when I watch these survivors fight with determination to have a productive focus to their day. They are truly changing the world, one person at a time. To be a part of this work has been life-changing for me. I have learned so much about hope and determination from these courageous survivors, and it has carried into my everyday appreciation of life. For this, I am truly thankful.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
Fortunately for me, there are many powerful, strong women in the nonprofit sector who have paved the way for women entering the field. I believe that in particular, my work managing and training volunteers who are primarily female has been more impactful because of being a female. So many women enter into social service careers and therefore, a large majority of my volunteers have been women. Female volunteers can often relate to my position or feel more comfortable sharing personal stories about work/life balance, etc.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
I am pleased to be able to report that this has never hindered my career and in fact, has only enhanced it!
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
My friends, family and co-workers continuously mentor me through their actions and I strive to absorb the strengths I see in those around me. Two outstanding role models are Beth Albaneze and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. These two women have been a guiding force in my nonprofit career thus far.
Beth Albaneze is a strong, empowering woman and friend who continues to inspire me with her creative approach to her career and her vast knowledge of helping people with disabilities to lead productive, fulfilling lives. While I only met the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver for a brief moment, she too has been a beacon for me in this field. The former founder of Special Olympics International, she made it her life’s work to take her place in life and use it to change the lives of those who are disabled. We can all learn from someone who never once takes for granted all that they have, and instead uses it to mobilize their community toward action and progress.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Do not underestimate the powerful effect on your life of finding the work that truly inspires you. It becomes a calling and provides a joy filled life. Don’t be afraid to flounder until you find that passion because once you do, it will be the force that can guide you through your entire career.
– Interview by Eve Richer