20 Stories: Mike Van Meter
May 8, 2023
As we celebrated our 20th anniversary and 20 successful years of serving grieving children and families, we shared the impact of Judi’s House through the eyes of 20 people. Mike Van Meter has been a Judi’s House volunteer since the organization’s founding. Until recently, he served as the nonprofit’s handyman, fixing whatever was broken in the two Victorians Judi’s House and the JAG Institute occupy. He is also a passionate companion volunteer for the organization’s Pathfinders and Connections programs, helping children and their caregivers through their grief journeys.
We sat down with Mike to chat about his involvement with Judi’s House, his favorite memories as a volunteer and his hopes for the organization’s future.
How has your role changed over the years?
Mike Van Meter: I did do the handyman thing, but it has slowed down for me now that we have the amazing Ms. Polly (Office Manger Polly West) to oversee the campus. I did have the distinction of painting every room in JAG, Judi’s House and the cottage we leased next door to JAG. I used to walk into our building and start checking all the lights for the never-ending process of replacing the burned-out bulbs. I do recall replacing the toilet in Judi’s House just hours before we had a big fundraising event, running home to shower and racing back to help with the event. Good times!
How did you get involved in Judi’s House?
When Judi’s House co-founder Brian Griese first shared his vision of Judi’s House [with me] it sounded like something I was willing to support. I think it was because you felt his unwavering commitment as he spoke. The idea of being able to contribute to the welfare of a child in pain, who would not like to help with that? As we had more conversations, it was clear that this was evolving into a project I wanted to help build.
What do you like best about volunteering?
As a group volunteer, it has to be seeing the face of a kid that “gets it.” You see that little spark of light in the eyes and know that something that was said or done in group resonates with them at that moment. It’s that ‘ah ha’ moment that clicks in, and they are forever changed. When the kids know that they are in a safe place with trusted people that know the pain they feel, they open up about themselves and share true, honest feelings.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Judi’s House?
Oh my, I have a ton. How many nights I drove home with a heart bursting with JOY from something that happened that night – a kid being willing to share with me. The few nights I had to pull over and cry, again, after a kid shared the hardest point in their young life. All of the wonderful kids and families that I have a connection to. All of the staff that has been so dedicated to the mission that is Judi’s House and willing the give the time, effort, and knowledge to make the program work and grow. All of the interns that have passed through the doors, students learning their craft, and giving it their all and making a difference in “my village”.
I would truly be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my fellow volunteers. Perhaps one of my favorites is remembering Brian taking me by my elbow to the signup table and telling them, “sign this guy up!” Wow, what a ride, No regrets!
What is your wish for the organization’s future?
With the pending move to the new Judi’s House facility, I predict we will be able to continue to expand the growth model that has served the community so well. I would expect we will continue to evolve our programs and services in a meaningful way. I would like to see the Judi’s House model be shared with more and more communities.