Liz Whidden’s director Melinda Bonner describes her as a dedicated employee and a caring person who looks for any opportunity to help others. Whidden is a “servant leader” who exhibits the heart and work ethic of a hero in the school cafeteria, and in the community. Bonner says that while others wonder where Liz gets the energy to do it all, Whidden is looking for ways to do more—a mark of a true leader.
“We all miss work sometimes, but Liz has perfect attendance!” said Bonner. “She just does so much—she’s a business owner, she does community service, her mother-in-law lives with her—and she’s here every single day. If it’s National School Lunch Week she’s using those SNA resources to promote it—everyone in her school will know it’s NSLW! Here at the central office we send them ideas and dates for things; on World Milk Day her whole staff is dressed like cows!”
Bonner says Whidden has created a staff of ‘rock stars’ who have learned to “roll with the punches” to make even a challenging situation seem fun. For example, when Whidden and her staff learned that USDA commodity turkeys wouldn’t arrive on time for the school’s Thanksgiving celebration, instead of panicking they created a song parody video explaining the situation.
It’s Liz’s contributions to the community outside of her role as CNP at Graystone Elementary that moved Bonner to submit Whidden’s name for consideration for the 2017 School Nutrition Hero Awards. Liz and her husband operate a mercantile, which serves as a second conduit for Whidden to channel her energy to help others; she serves the surrounding homeless and at-risk populations by donating hygiene kits and other supplies. She also donates seeds from her store to local schools for their gardens, including Graystone.
“I always try to go out on Christmas Eve,” said Whidden. “I feel like that’s probably the loneliest time for [them]. I always have something for them, and I just talk to them—I don’t preach to them, I just love on them. It’s supernatural love.”
As for Whidden, she says it’s Bonner’s example that helps her—and the entire Hoover City Schools SN staff—achieve success.
“Melinda is a perfectionist in everything she does—she is!” sayd Whidden. “She makes us all strive for perfection. She doesn’t push—she’s very patient. We all try to strive for perfection in everything because that is her character.”
Whidden feels called to service through her deep personal faith. Grateful for the recognition, she turned the spotlight back on her own colleagues who help her achieve success through teamwork.
“If you can encourage and teach every day, they always do better. Encourage, encourage, encourage.”