Melissa Sayers SNA Member Since 1998 » Dover, Delaware Delaware may be a small state, but its close-knit school nutrition community, with passion for the work and dedication to helping and supporting each other, stands out. Melissa Sayers, MBA, SNS, a field agent for nutrition programs for the Delaware Department of Education, takes pride in her small state roots. Explaining that her career “has come full circle,” she details her 20 years (and counting) in the profession, describes what inspires her to keep going and reveals triumphs and challenges experienced as president. On Achievement I’m proud that I’ve worked at all different levels of the school nutrition profession. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I worked for a local country club and after that, began working in school nutrition. My first job in school foodservice was in 1996, as an assistant manager of a high school cafeteria in the Capital School District in Dover, Del.; I later became manager of that site. After that, I worked for the Smyrna School District, also in Delaware, which was the district I’d attended as a student! Eventually, I was promoted to supervisor and worked there for nine years. In February 2015, I started employment with Delaware’s Department of Education, as a field agent for nutrition programs in the School Support Services division. I primarily focus on the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, conducting site visits. I also provide technical assistance for school nutrition operations throughout the state, conduct training and perform administrative reviews. Having firsthand experience with school operations was a big benefit, but when I started, there were still so many puzzle pieces to put into place and lots to learn. I absolutely love it, and it was good timing for a career switch. I sometimes miss daily operations, but my field agent role is a nice bridge that allows me to do something new while keeping my connection to schools. Also, I still get to work with most of the colleagues that I’ve met throughout Delaware during my time as a state association leader. Working at so many different levels of the profession has helped me to appreciate and understand all its aspects. Another achievement I’m proud of is earning a graduate degree in 2014. In 2004, I went back to school, to Wilmington University, for a master’s in business administration. It took me 10 years, because I was working and had a family, and I didn’t want my schooling to affect them. I stopped taking classes for a while, but ultimately returned to my program in 2008. I stuck with it and didn’t give up. It’s one of my biggest achievements! On Leadership I joined the Delaware School Nutrition Association when I was working in my first school nutrition position, and I regularly went to meetings and state conferences. I served as state secretary for a while and then had the opportunity to serve as vice president in 2013-14; this was an automatic track to serving as president-elect in 2014-15 and president in 2015-16. I correctly expected that serving as president would be a big responsibility and that a lot of people would be counting on me. I wasn’t expecting, though, that I would receive so much support from other leaders throughout SNA! Also, across Delaware, we are a very close-knit group in this profession, and I could and did go to others for advice. As a leader, I always try to listen. I did a lot of listening to what members needed during my time as state president. I take everyone’s opinions into account. I always try to be appreciative, because I know it feels good to be valued and realize your work is important to others. As a leader on the job, I have perseverance, and always strive to do my best. I have a strong work ethic. But going into my time as president, I was uncomfortable with public speaking. Eight hundred people came to our state conference, so it was a bit intimidating to be the emcee. But leading that first meeting got my fear out of the way, as I realized we’re all in this together! On Inspiration I’m inspired by seeing other leaders and colleagues in school nutrition who are doing amazing things. It’s especially noteworthy, because school meals have changed a lot since I first began. It’s not just breakfast and lunch anymore; it’s also afterschool and summer meals. It’s hard work. I’m also inspired by the volunteers on the Delaware SNA Executive Board, who spend a full year planning our state conference on top of their responsibilities at home and full-time jobs. They give their time, energy and expertise. It’s great motivation to see how hard some of our veteran leaders work, including those who are retired! On Goals I’m so happy with how my career has evolved. I want to continue learning as much as possible about different child nutrition programs and do the best job I can in my state agency role. I’m learning every day, but a higher position at the state agency isn’t on my horizon right now. When it comes to setting goals, it’s important to know exactly what you want as a result—and then celebrate the milestones along the way. When I set my MBA goal, I pictured myself getting that degree. I created a checklist, ticking off each time I finished a class. These little actions can help you reach your goal. I have two daughters, and the eldest is in college, living on campus and coming home on weekends. As a personal goal, I want to do all I can to help both of them get through their college years. As told to Cecily Walters, a freelance writer in Portland, Ore., and a former managing editor of this publication. 30-SECOND BIO CHILDHOOD & CURRENT HOMETOWN Smyrna, Delaware EDUCATION B.S. in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management, University of Delaware; M.B.A., Wilmington University YEARS IN SCHOOL NUTRITION 20 TITLE Field Agent, Nutrition Programs EMPLOYER Delaware Department of Education, Nutrition Programs AT A GLANCE The state agency administers a variety of school nutrition programs for Delaware’s 19 school districts. These include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and Special Milk Program. SNA LEADERSHIP Delaware SNA President (2015-16) FAMILY Husband Tom, Daughters Alison (18) and Amber (11)
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