Rachelle Villarson’s commitment to service inspires peers

Rachelle Villarson, at the 2011 Women of Power luncheon in Boston.Rachelle Villarson, at the 2011 Women of Power luncheon in Boston.
Last week’s National Urban League conference in Boston featured many nationally reknown figures from Soledad O’Brien, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates to Rev. Al Sharpton and Bill Gates. Many Bay State officials welcomed conference attendees including Gov Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino, several state representatives, administration leaders and members of the Boston city council.

However, one key group that helped to ensure the smooth operations of the conference was the hard-working volunteers. And one dynamic leader responsible for recruiting, training, coordination and execution for volunteers for several main events was Rachelle Villarson. Villarson, who was born in Brooklyn and came to Boston as a teen, is a finance supervisor at Partners Healthcare. She was appointed to the board of Young Professionals Network of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts (YPN-ULEM), as co-chair of the community service committee last summer. She hit the ground running.

Villarson spearheaded YPN-ULEM’s first campaign to increase awareness about homelessness within a few months of her tenure. The month-long Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Campaign in November 2010 provided a series of service opportunities that culminated with 145 people served hot meals, 100 donated backpacks of condoms and hygiene kits, along with donations of over 90 pounds of chicken and turkey, 25 pounds of rice and beans, and 12 pounds of vegetables.

“Rachelle came into the role already prepared,” said Nancy Rachel Rousseau, President of YPN-ULEM. “Rachelle believes in community building. She is willing to see a project from beginning to end.”

The commitment to serve her community began early in Villarson’s life.

“I first got involved with community service as a child. I went to Catholic school all my life and service to and for the community was always a philosophy instilled in me from day one,” says Villarson.

“My mother was also a role model in this aspect as she was always willing to help anyone in need...as evident in her chosen profession as a registered nurse. I [have] essentially been involved with community service all my life.”

Villarson began her studies at Northeastern University and is now majoring in business management at the University of Phoenix.

Charlene Luma, LICSW, is a Clinician at The Guidance Center’s Children with Voices who also currently serves as YPN-ULEM co-secretary.

“As a child Rachelle was always fun to be around and a risk taker. As a person Rachelle is reliable, committed, trustworthy, strong-willed, and [has] an infectious laugh that captivates a room and brings people into her.”Luma recalls several of the volunteer efforts she’s worked with her cousin.

“Rachelle and I have worked or volunteered with each other in [many] capacities, such as with the Prevention Now program
at the Hennigan School, fashion shows at Northeastern University, and organizing a team for the Annual Lupus New England that we do in honor of my late twin sister.”

“Rachelle is… also the older sister I’ve never had. This became even more so after losing my own twin sister,” said Luma.

Villarson is the eldest of two siblings. She has a 20-year old brother. She credits her mother as her role model and key influence
in her life.

“My mother is someone who has persevered against all odds, even when people her told no,” she said. “She has been this defiant person from as early as I can remember. Not only has she been defiant when it came to her own personal life but when it came to the well being of her children, she was ever more defiant in making sure that her kids not only got what she felt they needed, but what they deserved.”

Villarson’s mother, Gertrude Andre, RN, says the respect is mutual. “Rachelle is a leader. She was always outspoken as a child. I remember one time a pastor called her name in front of a church congregation. He pronounced it as ‘Rachel.’ Rachelle corrected him in front of everyone and said, ‘My name is Rachelle!’

When asked what she thinks of her daughter’s volunteer work, she teared up and said, “I’m very proud of her. My kids are my everything.”

Andre volunteered throughout the conference, with her daughter as the lead volunteer coordinator for the young professionals events. During the 60-hour volunteer work-week, Villarson was in charge of 35 volunteers who staffed about 15 events. As she walked through the convention center, a steady flow of volunteers comes to her with questions about room assignments,
shift changes and timing of meals. She effortlessly answers each one.

“I couldn’t do this alone. I have a great team, especially my co-chair Kenya [Beaman] and committee members, who are there to let me know when the workload is too much or unrealistic. Some of my go-to people are Magalie Jean-Michel and Erika Inocencio.”

Under Villarson and Beaman’s leadership, the community service committee had grown from about seven to 22 members and has put about 100 hours of planning and executing service events. The committee has led the organization to log an impressive 700 hours of community service hours.

Rachelle Villarson (center front) with members of YPN-ULEM doing community service at Rosie’s Place, fall 2010.Rachelle Villarson (center front) with members of YPN-ULEM doing community service at Rosie’s Place, fall 2010.
“I have worked with a lot of people on various projects large and small and I would say Rachelle is definitely on her way,” said Beaman, who works for Tufts University’s School of Medicine. “I love that she takes public service very serious as it is very important to give back."

At the conference, the national young professionals awarded the Boston chapter with the National Day of Service Award for the community health fair organized on June 11, by both the community service and public health committees.

“Both committees met every other week leading up to the event with additional outreach days that were scheduled as the event drew near,” said Jennease Hyatt who co-chairs the Public Health committee. “There were [about] 200 hours of preparation for this event. Through this process, I was able to build a closer relationship with Rachelle. She [stands] out as a person who is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done."

Ateesha Jackson, co-chair of the Public Health committee agrees that Villarson stands out as a leader. “She is always willing to step up and lead.”

When asked what advice she has for other young Haitian professionals looking to serve, Villarson says, “The best advice…is simple: just go and do it! It doesn’t take much to do one act of kindness. And while doing community service is always much more fun with company, you don’t have to [be] part of a group to serve.”

As she reflects on her experience, she shares this.“I am always learning. I am always trying to improve. I am always trying to grow. I have learned how to motivate. I have learned that you don’t always have to have all the answers all the time. I have learned how to be a leader.”

What’s Rachelle Villarson’s favorite Haitian proverb?

Sonje lapwi ki leve mayi w. Remember the rain that made your corn grow. My aunt used to say it to me all the time. I think what she was trying to instill in me to remember where you come from, who you are, how you got there, and where your blessings come from.”