Earlier this year, as the moment arrived at the Grand Prairie Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet to announce the winner of the “Woman of the Year” award, the name that was called surprised no one. Well, no one who has kept an eye on the local volunteer scene since 2005, when VanDella L. Menifee moved to North Texas from Atlanta.
Grand Prairie’s recent recipient of the prestigious honor could just as easily have been cited for excellence anywhere in this region where community service is needed and noted.
It’s not just what she does that makes a difference. It’s who she is: the preacher’s kid and a longtime official with the Department of Justice, who consolidated the selflessness she was taught at home and the calling to make a difference in people’s lives that was honed in a workplace that begged for difference makers. What emerged is the quintessential volunteer who is most happy when others are, as well.
“Volunteers can make the difference in the community,” she says. “Children are our future, and the elderly people are often forgotten and need to be remembered.”
On the former front, since her retirement in 2012, she has volunteered with or assisted schools in Dallas ISD, Fort Worth ISD, Lancaster ISD, Arlington ISD, Mansfield ISD and Grand Prairie ISD.
Meanwhile, she has chosen to serve with several non-profit organizations assisting the elderly and joined and rallied others to join causes within the African American, Asian, White and Hispanic communities. She has served on various committees throughout DFW, specifically in her hometown of Grand Prairie, in Mansfield and in Arlington. She has become so good at helping others that friends have suggested she become a paid consultant.
Menifee, who also treasures time spent with her husband Robert and sons, William and Richard, will have none of that. “Volunteering gives me the satisfaction and flexibility of doing things I enjoy and getting involved without monetary compensation,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about a conflict of interest, because of the monetary compensation. I ask those whom I support to support the other organizations or committees I support. Full circle! Also, I have been blessed to retire and not have to work at this time. I have been offered many great employment opportunities and declined these offers, because I love volunteering with a variety, more.”
Menifee’s upbringing certainly contributed to her altruistic nature. She was the oldest of five siblings and learned early on how to take care of others. “My humble beginnings gave me an insight of seeing the positive in life and how a smile can sometimes be the difference in making someone’s day better,” she says.
As a third grader in Chicago, she helped organize an SOS (Save our School) march – the school didn’t close. From the third to fifth grades, she gathered neighborhood children on her porch to help them hone their reading skills. In high school, she assisted with the care of her great aunt and her cousin, who was mentally disabled. At Jacksonville State University in Alabama, Menifee volunteered with campus organizations to find money/clothes, canned goods or books for various non-profit organizations, churches and the local schools.
“I continued my volunteer services in some form up to this present time,” she says. “I cannot imagine how many volunteer hours I must have over the past 40-plus years.”
Few can. But they should appreciate how those hours – and the smiling woman who devoted them – helped improve their lives.