Renee Miklosik is Director of Special Events and Volunteers at Little Friends. She’s held some interesting jobs in her short career and is on Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and current Chairperson for the Young Professionals Network. She is a two-time graduate of North Central College: B.A in 2004 and M.A in 2008. Read about what she’s learned from people with disabilities.
Q: What do you like best about your role at Little Friends?
A: It’s been a joy to work for Little Friends. At the end of nearly every day, I can point to something I’ve accomplished that has made life just a bit easier or a tad sweeter for the people we serve, whether that’s helping to get food on the table for one of our families in crisis or finding a way to give our clients an opportunity to do or see something they’d never thought to be possible. And in nearly every day, I get to work beside and interact with some of the most amazing, thoughtful, and generous people all to benefit Little Friends’ clients and their families.
Q: What have you learned from your work with people who have disabilities?
A: There are a few things: first and foremost, they are just like you and me. They have the same hopes and fears, likes and dislikes. They yearn to have relationships with their families and friends. They want to have a place to call home. They celebrate birthdays and holidays; they have their favorite sports teams, entertainers, restaurants. They want to work in their communities and have a purpose in their day.
Q: What jobs have you held before this one?
A: After graduating from North Central College, I worked Paramount Theater in Aurora as the assistant to the Executive Director. I did everything -- answering phones and taking care of correspondence, to planning for and managing small events. I even worked in the café in the Grand Gallery when we were short staffed on show nights.
From there, I went to work at my alma mater in their office of Camps and Conferences; I handled the summer programming including athletic and academic camps, outside conferences, summer musicals, housing and meal needs for all of these events, and scheduling of campus space was under my purview. If the Paramount was a crash course in doing 10 things at once, moving to NCC was like going from the frying pan into the fire! It was a huge job, but I loved it. I loved it because I loved North Central, and that’s my home; it always will be.
Q: Special events and managing volunteers require you to keep many balls in the air. What’s your secret for keeping them moving?
A: Two things are a must: a good plan and a great group of people that you can rely on. I’m a planner and when I approach an event, I think from point A to point B to point C, and on and on, and I have contingency plans between each point. If this, then that…if that, then this. It’s exhausting in the early stages, certainly, because you overthink, but when it’s go time, and something goes awry (and something always goes awry!) there’s a sense of calm. I’m lucky to have committees that pull their weight and do what they say they are going to do. I try to surround myself with volunteer groups who know the drill—they’ve worked an event for so many years they know their tasks better than I do.
Q: In the Naperville area that seemingly has endless events, how do you make yours stand out?
A: Little Friends has such a rich history in Naperville, and our annual auction is as well-known as any of the programs and services we provide. I’m lucky that I get to continue to build that tradition, but we are not afraid to try new things. I’d like to think that when guests attend our events, they see or do something they haven’t seen yet at another Naperville event.
I also place a premium on fun. I don’t want people to attend Little Friends events out of obligation. I want them to come because they love our mission and value our work and they have a great time helping us reach our goals. It’s also why our numbers continue to grow. Every year, we are welcoming more people and raising more money to support our clients and families.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: “Expect to win. Make it happen.” That’s a holdover from my days playing softball in high school and college—my favorite coach had that printed on our practice gear—but it very easily translates to the business and non-profit world. And it’s far easier said than done. It starts with having the confidence to know that you can win, or accomplish your goals, regardless of what team or other hurdles might stand in your way. Making it happen is a little harder. It requires work—commitment, discipline, 110% effort. The teams I played on were very successful. Yes, we had talent, but we beat teams because we outworked them. I approach my job the same way because, for me, “winning” is nothing more than beating last year’s numbers. What we raised at last year’s event, I know can be surpassed; I just have to work harder than I did the previous year to see that it happens.
Q: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned along the way?
A: Having a mentor can absolutely change your life! I am blessed to have had a number of wonderful supervisors, coaches, and teachers in my life. Some were there for a term or two, some have been there for years, and they all taught me something. But there’s something about having that trusted adviser who takes your hand and helps you navigate some rough waters—personal or professional—and the growth that comes from that. Mine is a wonderful friend and former professor whom I share very little in common except our mutual love of food, but whose presence, I think, has shaped my last several years. There isn’t a single subject I can’t address with her, and there isn’t a time when I don’t feel better after having talked with her. She supports everything I do, from the serious to the silly. She’s the best. That relationship is the best. And I’m grateful to have her and it.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: With the upcoming holiday, I’m trying to remember to refocus on what’s really important. My every day, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, is about figuring out how to give the holiday experience to someone we serve that wouldn’t have a holiday experience otherwise. We’re about to launch our annual Giving Trees Program and my desk is filled with client requests, many for the most basic necessities…socks, sweatpants, winter hats and gloves, and a few like a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card or set of colored pencils. The things that so many of us take for granted are things that would mean the world to our folks.
The support that the Naperville community—individuals, businesses, civic organizations, educational institutions, etc.—shows to Little Friends really is a wondrous thing!
By: Faith Behr, Behr Communications
Behr Communications is a marketing PR firm that helps businesses find and build new audiences, raise awareness and connect with their customers. We offer a range of communications marketing capabilities: social media, digital marketing, direct mail, graphic design, public relations, website development and government relations. We know that successful marketing is built on three essential elements: sound strategy, thoughtful execution and genuine relationships.
Photo by: Sabina Cavalli Photography, a boutique studio in south Naperville that specializes in creating photographic art with you or your favorite people in it. Sabina is a Certified Professional Photographer, has her Masters of Photography Degree and has received top accolades including the Top 10 Imager in Illinois by the North Central District of the Professional Photographer of America (PPA) and National Bronze Photographer of the Year by the PPA. She teaches lighting and posing techniques at PPA affiliates in the Midwest. Please visit her website at www.sabinacavalli.com or call 630-699-2072 for a visit to her studio.