As the sun rises over the sugarcane fields and the rooster crows, Melissa stirs. She can feel the heat already radiating off the tin roof. There is no hum of an air conditioner promising comfort, just the cold shower that offers some relief.
She steps outside to join the rest of the missionaries as they load up in trucks and head to the villages. Today she’ll see the kids and help them learn English or perhaps get them to act in a play.
It’s work best left to angels to be sure. But, before we hand her a halo let’s not forget this is the same person who not long before heading to Central America used to sit, drunk by a hot dog stand in Indiana asking for money so she could grab a hot dog.
This wasn’t a one-time thing either. She did it enough that it became a running joke with her mother. So, maybe Melissa isn’t an angel, but perhaps a saint.
Whatever her heavenly moniker ends up being let it be said that charity has never been far from her heart.
She was born in Saint Louis to a box salesman and a banker. After eight months they headed to Atlanta, but it wasn’t for too long. They were back in the Lou by the time she was five. She attended Saint Joseph’s Academy high school and was active in plays.
After her debut as a scene-stealing tree she played a rat. But, the theater would become less of an interest as she went to college and studied Speech Pathology. There was something that called to her, (regardless of her affinity for panhandling for hotdogs) and told her to be more, to do more.
“I wanted to help kids with speech impediments.” she says matter-of-factly. As if anyone would want to be an accountant, or lawyer when helping people was an option.
She attended the Indiana University in Bloomington and received her degree in Speech Pathology, and a minor in theater. It was then that she was at a crossroads. Should she continue on and get her Masters or should she put what she had learned into action?
She submitted her application to the Peace Corps.
“They let me know that the application had been accepted. But I wouldn’t be working in community development. Instead, I’d be in water sanitation — in the middle of nowhere digging ditches.” She says.
Even a saint has limitations.
Undeterred, she found another Christian organization and before long she was dropping her bags on the floor in her new cinder block home. She had signed a letter of commitment for two years, so there was no going back, although she wouldn’t have even if she could. There were breaks though. Every three months she had to head back home to renew her visa and then head back to the heat. Dear God the heat.
But every day was rewarding. When asked why she did it, she says, “When you see pictures of the kids, they just grab your heart.”
Eventually, Melissa did head home for good. She didn’t feel the need to continue on with her studies.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” She recalls, “I just didn’t want to do more schooling.”
She pauses for a minute and then loses her saint status, “I love working for a cause, but I needed money.
It was seeking this kind of earthbound balance with angelic aspiration that led her to working for Children’s Miracle Network in Saint Louis. While there she did everything — even graphic design.
Yeah. Graphic Design.
“I was terrible.” she says laughing. “But, I was passionate about the cause and who I was working for.” She did banners, flyers and even some web design. But, while the passion was there for the purpose, her skill set wasn’t a good fit.
One day her Dad handed her a cocktail napkin with an email address and phone number of an agency contact at Propaganda. She interviewed, and a week later she was hired. A day later she was on a plane headed to Phoenix, Arizona as their newest Account Executive.
It was on this trip that she met her husband — in the middle of what could describe as something out of the Old Testament, a haboob.
It sounds like the hand of God reached down from the heavens and scorched the earth just to keep her from finding a mate — preserving her sainthood.
Actually it’s a sandstorm — a sandstorm that locks down airports and makes travel impossible.
“We met on Tinder, before I left and we were texting back and forth while I was trapped.” She says. “He says it was about 2 a.m. when he knew that I was the one.” They were married and now they have a daughter Winnie.
“Originally we wanted to call her Winter after my mom’s maiden name.” She says. “But, Winter Youngblood sounds like someone from Game of Thrones, so for two or three days she went without a name. Eventually we settled on Winifred, Winnie for short. But, we call her Fred.”
Now that she’s settled in at Paradowski as part of the account team, does she want to continue helping the less fortunate?
“If you consider my husband a charity case,” she says laughing, “then yes.”
Spoken like a true modern day saint.