from February 2022 column in African American Point of View by Lora Wondolowski


Last month, we lost two folks close to Leadership Pioneer, both in their 40’s. I am still reeling from these losses—one from COVID and the other from cancer. It was sad reminder of how fragile we all are.

Carmelinda “Melin” Menas was a current participant in Leadership Pioneer Valley’s LEAP program. Although we have only known her for a few months, she is one of those memorable people who make an impact. She was an encouraging presence in the class. She was not the most vocal, but when she did comment it was insightful. She had just begun working with her team on a project to support small businesses in Easthampton. Melin worked at Freedom Credit Union, where she worked her way up to Branch Officer from teller.

At her core, Melin was community-minded and passionate about supporting at-risk youth in Springfield. She was involved with Springfield School Volunteers, Junior Achievement, Boys Ink, and the Springfield Ballers.

These recent losses have me feeling like I am just marking time lately instead of fully living. Tapping into fragility is a reminder that none of us knows how long we have. I am questioning whether or not I am truly living this precious life. This is a combination of the pandemic and winter. The pandemic has put much of our lives on hold for the last two years. Every time it seems safe to return to some normalcy, a new variant pops up. How do we work through the constant upheaval? Some of this limit setting is healthy. Navigating our safety has taught us to prioritize and say no. This self-advocacy is an important skill to bring forward.

One word that comes to mind when I think of Melin is kindness. She was the first person to welcome our new staff person during a meeting. At her service, many spoke about her giving spirit and ways that she helped them and those around her. Living fully should include practicing kindness. Early in the pandemic, I began a practice of dropping notes in the mail for friends and family. As this has dragged on, I have let that practice slide. I hope to take the time again. I know how much kind gestures have helped me over the last two years.

One of Melin’s goals for joining LPV was connecting with more people from new places. The full service and outpouring at her loss, points to someone who had strong, diverse connections. The pandemic has made it easier to stay inside our bubbles and drop connections. We need to work harder to see people and get beyond our usual circles. The pandemic has really shrunken our worlds. It will take more planning and deliberate action to ensure that connections don’t wither as things drag on.

Although, many of us only knew Melin for a short time, she made a big impression for a five foot woman! I am left recalling a moment at our program retreat when Melin was holding a yellow maple leaf. That moment of gratitude is a reminder to pause and appreciate the world and people around you. Like leaves on a tree, we are fragile with a short time to show our colors.