Miesje Havens has been recommended to be featured as Volunteer of the Month by someone very close to me, my daughter, Linda Nellis. Linda has known Miesje since they were classmates in high school and is keenly aware of the many volunteer positions she has been involved in.
Miesje is a Syracuse native, as are her parents, Jan and Sue Farr. She attended Jamesville-Dewitt High School and received her undergraduate degree in accounting from LeMoyne College. She then went to Keuka College and earned a Masters Degree in business.
Havens worked for the HSBC Bank for 17 years and became its senior vice-president, and then at Partners Trust Bank where she was a senior vice-president and regional manager. Miesje had over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry in executive leadership positions. Havens also became certified by the prestigious Protocol School of Washington as a corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant and was a member of the American Society for Training and Development.
As a corporate protocol consultant, Miesje provided workshops and personal coaching to assist executives in achieving the highest level of professionalism. After that long career in the banking industry Miesje, and her husband Bill, now own Branch’s Driving School.
Miesje Havens remembers her first volunteering experiences when she was in the fourth grade and helped at Holy Cross Church. She also volunteered with the Girl Scouts when they sang Christmas carols for residents in the Hill Haven nursing home. She was very scared and nervous because she had never sang in public before, but it didn’t take long to realize that it wasn’t about her or her singing.
“It was less about me, and more about them,” she said. “It was obvious that they appreciated what we were doing.”
A few years later, Miesje volunteered at the Everson Museum while in High School.
When Miesje first began working at HSBC (which was then Marine Midland) she found the bank to be very pro-active in having its employees involved in community service. This was very interesting to Miesje because both her mother and grandmother were involved in community politics and volunteering. In fact her mother, Sue, served on the Town of Dewitt board. Miesje was not interested in politics because she wanted to be more involved with the people in our community that had needs.
While at HSBC Miesje Havens became a board member for Junior Achievement and the Boys and Girls Club. And, when her two sons became school age she began volunteering for the PTG (Parent Teachers Group.) Miesje became president of the Jamesville Elementary and Middle School, PTG and decided on the agenda for its monthly meetings.
While in a meeting Miesje heard someone say, “Criticism is a privilege of involvement.” What that meant to her was that if you are going to criticize you better get involved. So, involved as she already was, Miesje began to volunteer for Leadership Greater Syracuse (LGS), whose mission is to “inspire current and future leaders to make a difference in the community where we live and work. LGS is where personal development and professional connections serve the greater good.”
Eventually Miesje Havens thought she was spreading herself too thin by being on so many different boards and other volunteer efforts. After analyzing everything she knew about the needs of the community, Miesje decided that the Vera House was the organization that she wanted to devote her time to because of its mission: “Vera House prevents, responds to, and partners to end domestic and sexual violence and other forms of abuse.”
There are two boards at Vera House that Miesje considered, the board of directors and the board of trustees. She chose the latter because it is the fundraising arm for Vera House, and her experience in banking would provide her with the tools to be successful, and fundraising was critical to Vera House because it needed that to sustain its mission.
With all good intentions of not wanting to “spread herself too thin,” along came plans for a new library in DeWitt. Miesje jumped right in and became chairperson for capital giving, and is now on the board of the new Community Library of Dewitt and Jamesville on Jamesville Road. The location has already proven to be successful because the number of library cards issued is much larger now, especially among teens and seniors.
There is something that Miesje Havens will always remain involved in. She will advocate for her sister, Sarah, who has developmental disabilities. Miesje involves herself in the Syracuse chapter of L’Arche, an international organization that provides homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, create inclusive communities of faith and friendship, and transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries.
As further proof that volunteering runs in the Haven’s family, Miesje and Bill’s oldest son has participated in two mission trips to El Salvadore, and their younger son volunteers with L’Arche as well.
Linda Nellis sums it up this way: “My friendship with Miesje spans over 40 years. In that time, she has consistently impressed and inspired me with her energy, dedication and courage in both her professional and personal life. I have never seen anyone be able to juggle so much and so well. She always seemed to wind up in a leadership role including being elected president of the PTG group. She has never been satisfied with a passive position and, because of that, she was recently an honoree at the Vera House gala. Miesje deserves the recognition of Volunteer of the Month. She quietly devotes her time and skills to bettering our community.” (Linda Nellis knows what Miesje means to the community because she works for Launch, an organization assisting people with learning disabilities.)
Miesje enjoys golf, music, and spending time with family and friends. The Havens live in Jamesville.
To recommend someone with a stellar record of volunteering to be featured in this column contact Mel Rubenstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-682-7162.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.