Your Neighbor: Meet Michelle Graska
By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier
Michelle Graska learned from a young age that adapting to change and making the most out of any situation is a good quality to have. Having lived in eight different states as a kid, Graska was put in situations where that skillset was quite useful. “My parents really liked to move. We would live somewhere for 18 months to two years,” says Graska. However if I had to say where home was, I lived in California the longest.”
Although where Graska lived may have changed frequently, her bond to her siblings and parents was always strong. “I was raised as the baby of the family. I have an older brother, Kevin, and my younger sister, Ashley, didn’t come until 15 years later,” mentions Graska. “When my mom had my sister, my parents had divorced. Since my mom was working at the time, I really wanted to help. I changed her diapers, taught her ABCs, and took care of her.” Graska was so helpful with caring for her younger sister that she did independent study for her schooling to be able to watch her during the day while her mom was at work.
Graska’s childhood was filled with lots of memories of family, but also of her own pursuits of wanting to be a star. “It wouldn’t be unusual to see me in our house singing karaoke in a princess dress. I was always extra from an early age,” laughs Graska. “I tried out for star search and didn’t make it, but loved the experience of it. I was definitely born willful and stubborn. But that’s one of the things I love about my family, they didn’t try to change me one bit. They also encouraged me to speak my mind and I’ve remained outspoken today because of it.”
With confidence and some life lessons under her belt, Graska decided for her college focus to be on nursing. Although, she learned pretty quickly she wasn’t ready to commit to that profession. “I got a job working as a dispatcher for a heating and air conditioning company. I worked for two different ones for over six years and learned about project management,” explains Graska. “Then I went to work for a solar manufacturer. They had a loyalty program, which is why I was hired — to run it. Even though I didn’t have a marketing background at that time, they knew I understood what contractors did and believed they could teach me the marketing component.” Graska thrived in that position. “For the five years that I worked for them, their product was in multiple countries. I traveled all over to places like Germany to roll out our ad campaigns for products that we created in the U.S. It was neat to see what you created in various countries and languages,” explains Graska. “I truly enjoyed the international experience it afforded me.”
During Graska’s time working for the solar company, she met her future husband, Jeff. “When we first talked we realized very quickly how many common interests we had,” says Graska. They really enjoyed the local music scene, travel, appreciated family, and weren’t scared to try new things and learn. Jeff and Michelle knew after dating only 4-5 months that they were going to be lifelong partners, and were married within the year. “Jeff is musically talented, and his band played at our wedding. It was really special,” remembers Graska.
The Graskas decided to make a big change after getting married. “I had thought about going back to school to be a nurse when the solar company that I worked for had a major organizational shift,” recalls Graska. “My dad was living in Winston-Salem, so we decided to make a major move and come to North Carolina. We had a home to stay in, but no jobs. I had found a job pretty quickly though for a gas pump manufacturer. All of my friends in the solar world found the irony in this new switch. Although, I didn’t stay long because I found a fit that really suited my marketing background instead at HealthCare Information Management, Inc. (HCIM). At this point I had seven years of marketing experience, I was really excited to parlay what I had learned with this opportunity.” Graska started as the marketing coordinator and now after 5½ years is the marketing director for the robotic automation software company that helps process health care claims for companies.
Graska has loved being in a job that allows her to do what she loves best, and also encourages her to give back to the community. “At HCIM we are encouraged to be philanthropic and even paid to take time off to do so. The company itself gives to various charities monetarily and through time from all 17 of my colleagues. Philanthropy is something that was always big in my home, so I love being part of an organization that shares the same values. I was taught that if you have something to give whether it’s a donation, time, or service, you do just that,” explains Graska.
Graska does all of the above. She currently serves on the marketing committee for the Davidson County Family Services. She is also on the board of directors executive committee for the Humane Society of Davie County. “I started volunteering there with bottle feeding kittens as a foster. I learned very quickly the importance of fostering and that really and truly anyone can do it. I saw the impact it made on allowing them to save these little lives. The support they gave me when I was unsure of what to do was very helpful. I encourage anyone with an interest to consider it,” says Graska.
Another passion of Graska’s philanthropic world is the National Multiple Sclerosis event held, the Tour to Tanglewood to help raise funds towards the debilitating disease. “It’s very near and dear to my heart,” says Graska who actively works to raise funds for the organization every year.
Although many of the events Graska would usually be planning and running right now for her charities have been postponed due to COVID-19. “It’s frustrating because we’ve had to reschedule events that were on the books for quite some time. Places like the Humane Society of Davie County depend on these fundraisers because they do not receive government assistance to save the lives of these animals and run the low-cost spay and neuter program from the community. We have to get creative for how to hold fundraisers now, whether that’s virtually or with some other mechanism to create awareness and need,” explains Graska.
Graska is like everyone else who had had to slow down in many ways and reassess how to live a “new normal” during this pandemic. “We haven’t been able to travel and see family as much as we used to, especially the stepchildren and the grandbabies who we adore,” notes Graska. “I miss getting to see my husband’s band, Poundcake, where he’s the drummer, play at local places and events. But like everyone else, we’ve realized that the universe is throwing us a curve ball and we’re making the most out of the uncertainty around us. We just bought a home with 12½ acres and plan to start growing our own garden. Maybe we’ll incorporate some chickens and goats into the mix.”
Our neighbor’s continued resilience and adaptability, which started from a young age, still serves her well as an adult. She has learned firsthand that you must be willing to change because life won’t stay the same.