For some, certain holidays bring out the best in them. It might be Valentine’s Day, where you celebrate your sweetest, or Thanksgiving, where you indulge in fine foods, but for Michelle Williams, it’s Christmas she adores the most. Three years ago, Michelle expanded on her love for Christmas and now spreads good tidings throughout the year to those who are less fortunate. A Christmas movie inspired her to start her nonprofit organization, Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc. (SLHI), the mission of which is to work with foster youth in and around the Kentuckiana area to strengthen their self-esteem and confidence by building a foundation of literacy, personal growth and development.
In addition to running her nonprofit, Michelle is a full-time wife and mother, as well as the Coordinator of Academic Affairs for the School of Music at the University of Louisville and an entrepreneur, running several different businesses. Let’s meet this incredibly versatile FACE of Louisville, Michelle Williams.
Why is Christmas so special to you?
When I was a kid, the best time of the year for us was Christmas. It was just a joyous occasion. Like all children, I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning, anticipating what presents I was going to receive, but I loved Christmas so much because of my mother. She would bake cakes and cookies and gingerbread houses from scratch. I would watch her put these houses together very meticulously, and they were decorated with all of this candy. It was just amazing. It wasn’t just about the presents. It was about the smells and feelings and sounds of music and the all-around Christmas season.
Which movie inspired you to start Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc.?
My daughter and I were at home watching movies on TV when one came on called Christmas Oranges. It’s about a foster home for young girls who receive an orange for Christmas if they behave. This was part of my inspiration for the organization. I started thinking about the foster children out there who might not receive anything for Christmas, and this feeling of sadness just swept over me. That’s when I came up with Santa’s Little Helpers, Inc. I wanted to be able to help these children.
How has SLHI assisted foster youth in Louisville?
Our first program, Pajamas for Children, took place during the Christmas season of 2017. I’d reached out to Joann Childers, who is the activity director at St. Joseph Children’s Home, and I asked her if they needed pajamas for the kids, and she said yes. We worked together and compiled a list of the children there and what sizes they’d need. Our organization went shopping and got the pajamas, wrapped them up, and dropped them off for Christmas. The kids were super excited.
What other ways are you helping foster children in the area?
We’ve implemented a program called Keep Our Kids Reading. Access to books is limited due to libraries and schools being closed due to COVID-19. In order to make books available to children, we’ve done two things. We purchased a Little Free Library and put it outside of Hobby Lobby in the Springhurst Towne Center. Up to this point, we’ve put in over 150 books that are free to take. We’ve received book donations for this from the public library, Half Price Books, and through our partnership with the Scholastic Literacy Program, which allows us to purchase books at a discounted rate.
Another program is called the Book Bag Project, where we work with the Cabinet for Family and Health Services to donate bags with books in them. These are given to social workers, so when they pick up a child, they can give them a bag to put their belongings in.
We also began providing virtual storytime programs in October on YouTube, starting with a fall-themed program, then a Thanksgiving program, and our Christmas program in December.
What are some future plans for SLHI?
In 2021, SLHI will be starting the Future Forward Program, which will target high school-aged kids. Our focus is going to be on helping them explore different pathways based on their passions and interests to guide them to their next step after foster care. We want to give them a toolkit so they are ready to move forward in life. We will be partnering with PassionWorks! to provide coaching and life skills to these young people.
What are some of your other projects?
I have two companies: Big Adventure Publishing and Big Adventure Films. I’ve written two children’s books — one that’s just been published called Little Max and Santa’s Red Sack and another that is being illustrated right now called The Legend of the Christmas Cookie. I am also finishing up my first screenplay. With Big Adventure Films, I just filmed my first documentary Jerry Green and Friends about my uncle and his nightclub that’s here in Louisville. I also have my own shop at christmasclubstore.com, which I started this past summer for Christmas in July.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There are two pieces of advice I’d like to include. One, my mother told me to talk to everyone all the time. She was a salesperson for Tupperware, and she said, “You just never know what a person will say, and the worst thing they can say is ‘no,’ so you should talk to everybody all the time.” I use that with my nonprofit because you don’t know what people are willing to help you with if you don’t ask.
The other piece of advice I heard on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” many years ago. Oprah said, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I try to attain that goal every day because I try to enjoy what I do, and I love working with and helping people.
What are three things you can’t live without?
Food, music, and the Hallmark Channel.
To meet more inspiring women, please visit our archives.