#SNFTuesday Scholarship Series: Michelle Gifford, Assistant Director of Nutrition Services, Riverside Local School District, Painesville, OH

You would be hard-pressed to find a busier woman than Michelle Gifford, the Assistant Director of Nutrition Services in the Riverside Local School District in Painesville, Ohio. This mother of four works full-time while attending classes at Lakeland Community College, and takes care of a lot of folks around her—including her mother, and her three dogs, not to mention her students!

We sat down to chat with Michelle to learn how receiving an Annual Fund scholarship is helping her manage the financial aspect of going back to school as an adult. (And we picked up a few tips on multi-tasking, too!)

Gifford began working for the Riverside school district in May of 2009 in a part-time administrative assistant position. In 2011 her director took over a second district as a shared service, which led to Michelle taking on more responsibility.

“Around 2010 or 2011 I became an SNA member—I went to an SNA Ohio conference that year, and got more involved in the fundamentals of how the program worked,” explained Michelle by phone. “When my director took over a third district, that added even more responsibility, and through that process I learned what it was like to start a program from scratch.”

At the time, Gifford’s director was creating a child nutrition program from the ground up for neighboring Fairport Harbor, which in its 93 years as a school had never had a school lunch program.

“In two years she got that program up and running, and the community loves it. At some point [in the last 5-10 years] they stopped sending kids home from lunch and required the parents to pack a lunch, but prior to that kids could go home to eat or pack a lunch. [They] participate in the NSLP and there is a percentage of free/reduced students that wasn’t receiving that benefit, and now they are.”

While she’s currently the assistant director, Michelle has applied for and hopes to fill the director position in the near future. At the end of last year her director/mentor announced her retirement, but encouraged Michelle to take on the challenge and apply for the job.

“I started going back to school last January, the Spring 2015 semester, for an associate’s in applied business–but I didn’t do it in anticipation of her resigning!” explained Michelle. “I was hesitant—I’m going to school, there are a lot of logistics in foodservice, my mentor [left], I have four kids, my mother lives with me—I’m busy!”

In the meantime, Michelle continues to attend classes, with a goal of taking six credit hours per semester. With one daughter already in college, and another getting ready to graduate—plus two other school-age children with a variety of academic and recreational activities—applying for an SNF scholarship would help ease the financial burden for this family of self-described “over-achievers.” She hopes to go on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business management as well.

“The scholarship was a huge help for me. I received $250 from SNF and $250 from Schwann, and that paid for half of my tuition last semester,” said Michelle. “It’s so nice to get the extra help when it’s available. To go back to school at 44 years old—when my daughters are going to school—and starting over was daunting enough. Thinking about the financial ramifications was also daunting, but jumping in with both feet and looking for help from SNA, that’s been a growth experience for me.”

So how does Michelle—mom, student, assistant director, and then some—do it all? With passion for the profession she has chosen.

“I’m just very grateful to SNA and SNF. The [scholarships] make a huge impact when people are thinking about changing careers, or going further in their careers. This journey has been a growing process for me, and I’m just really thankful.”

Support school nutrition—donate to the Annual Fund today!

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