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TCYP Member Spotlight – Valarie Handy

What is your day job?
Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) and Data Analyst for USDA Rural Development’s Innovation Center

How long have you lived in the Grand Traverse area?
I’m a Traverse City native. I was born at Munson Medical Center, and went to school at TC Central then NMC, and Davenport University (through the University Center).

What is your favorite thing about living/working in the Traverse City area?
I love how much opportunity there is in our community! I love nerds. I mean, I love people who love “their thing”. There are so many nerds in our community who spend their time and talents building new and exciting events, clubs, and exposing us all to their passions. With over 50 different non-profit entities, cutting edge social enterprise businesses, and industry clusters that provide direct access to the entire world, the Grand Traverse region is a place where you can do or be whatever you want. We have clubs and organizations that focus on everything from land conservation, to teaching kids to bike, to reducing poverty and homelessness, to hosting amazing discussions with bestselling authors, and pretty much anything else under the sun… and if “your thing” doesn’t already exist here there are people dedicated to helping you launch that thing. Helping you succeed is “their thing”. The barriers to entry are so low here. All you have to do is start showing up and contributing to the community!

What do you do for fun?
I’ve spent most of my adult life as a chronic volunteer. It has afforded me the opportunity to figure out where my passions lie and what issues are really worth my time and talents. I’m also a reluctant runner, sometimes kayaker, brown thumb gardener and a newly added bonus mom to my three awesome kids.

How do you get involved in the community?
I currently serve as the Board Chair for Commongrounds Cooperative, and as the Connect Committee Chair for TCYP. I also volunteer on the DE&I committee at Traverse Connect and add in a smattering of other “one-off” volunteer gigs when I can. I recently started my own LLC (Handy Enterprises) to contribute my professional services to the projects I care about in a more formal way. I look forward to growing that business and providing jobs for others over the coming years.

What is your favorite local business (restaurant, shop, service, etc.) and why?
I really like Common Good Bakery. Their bread is tasty and they give me free coffee every time I visit because I spend my money there in chunks (their “Rebel club” is like buying a gift card that spends over time). Their aged cheddar bread is perfect with the local asparagus they featured as an add on to my orders earlier this summer.

What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
My first job was picking up cigarette butts off the beach at a hotel near Four Mile Road. I 14 years old and was trying to make money to go on a school choir trip that never panned out. It was a great lesson in the value of my time.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I’ve stopped taking vacations just for the sake of taking vacations. Since 2016 I’ve chosen to plan trips around volunteer gigs and have found more value and personal rejuvenation through being a beginner at something again and working in a different environment with different people than I ever found as a tourist.

What is something you learned in the last week?
Last week I was reminded that everything changes. The world is constantly shifting, growing and changing. I attended a funeral on Wednesday, and my neighbors delivered a baby girl on Thursday. Tuesday I failed miserably at getting through all of the tasks on the meeting agenda I scheduled, and Friday I gave an awesome impromptu demo of some process improvement and collaboration tools I use at work. Everything changes. The point is to make the best choices you can moment by moment and keep moving forward.

How can other TCYP members support you (personally or professionally)?
Be a nerd! Love something! Life is so much more interesting when people have the courage to care deeply about things. Something. Anything. Lots of things. One or two things. The choices are yours. Then tell others about your thing.

We all come from different paths and have had different experiences in life, but we share the common opportunity of living in THIS time in human history. This is a great time to be alive! We’re fortunate (in this big-ish little community) that our biggest barrier to entry is whether or not to start showing up for the things we care about. That’s it. Be a nerd and just show up.