Meet May’s CityMaker, Melissa Sanchez.
Melissa Sanchez moved to Lakeland in 1994 from Ohio and graduated from Lake Gibson High School in 2000. After moving away for a few years, she came back, started a family, and has been a volunteering, community-minded force in our city ever since.
One look at Melissa’s schedule, and you’ll wonder how she finds the time for it all. She is the communications and community outreach coordinator for Lakeland Realtor, works in catering, is an account executive for a mobile marketing platform, is a national ambassador for a rum company, and on top of it all, is mom to her 14 year-old son Logan, 6 year-old daughter Isabella, and “bonus mom” to 11 year-old Mason.
Did we mention she finds volunteers during the free time she has?
“I’m kind of one of those people who are all over the place,” Melissa said. “If I’m not doing 10 things, I feel like I’m forgetting something or missing something. I’m a great multitasker.”
Six years ago, Melissa, who–at the time–was married to a US Army veteran, met a couple families who had family members killed an action. Shortly thereafter, Warrior Walk–one of Lakeland’s most well-attended charity events supporting local veterans–was born.
The goal was for people to come to the walk, walk in honor of the person on the back of their shirts, go home, research what that person did before their life was taken, and really learn the sacrifices these people made. Since 2010, the walk has grown from 300 to 900 shirts, meaning 900 fallen warriors from around Florida being honored. Participants come from across the country to walk in honor of their loved ones. Some participants even ask for the same soldier they had in previous years because they feel connected to them. For Melissa, the true purpose of the walk is about supporting our troops.
“We have a lot of veterans in Polk County, and they need us. They need our help and services,” Melissa said. “PTSD is very real. It’s one of those things that if you’ve never been through it, you don’t know much about it, but when you’re going through it, it can be scary. It can be sad. It can be overwhelming.”
Melissa said she would love for Lakeland to bring more awareness regarding PTSD and veteran issues. She says since these selfless humans put their lives on the line for us, the least we could do is support them and let them know we’re there for them.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller.
This quote is the one Melissa tries to live by, and she definitely follows it to a T. The self-proclaimed “professional volunteer” finds any way to bless another, even if it’s donating leftovers to a the Ronald McDonald House or helping the police station with anything they need. Melissa will make sure others feel loved.
“I feel they’ve all enriched my life in some way shape or form,” Melissa said. “I don’t regret any of them or wish I was less busy because I feel like they are always blessing me.”
Melissa believes everyone should give back at some point in their life and always teaches her kids that. So, when her son came home asking to do a service project for class, she was more than willing to help! They built two Little Free Libraries, one on Edgewood Drive and one near Hollis Garden, and are constantly stocking books into it.
“I really like to encourage my kids to do something for others, and I’m glad at 14 he realizes the importance of that,” she said.
We are so blessed to have such a selfless individual in our midst, who chooses to love others despite the little free time she has. It’s people like Melissa who make us want to do more for our community and show others we care.
Melissa says her desire to help others can be traced back to when she was 8-years-old. She was at an event during Christmas time, and at the time, her family didn’t have much. At the event, someone gave her a teddy bear. Melissa said the feeling that washed over her was something she could not forget…the feeling of knowing that someone that didn’t even know her cared enough to give her a gift that would brighten her day. That stranger and that small gift made the impact of a lifetime.
“I guess I told myself ever since then that I’m going to try to do what I can for other people to make them feel special like I did,” she said. “ Somebody cared enough to love me, so I try to love everyone else.”
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