For Melanie Paul a trip to Africa changed her direction and led to a commitment to helping impoverished African countries.
Q: You have been leading the Wendell Chamber of Commerce as its executive director since March of 2012, so many of the town’s business owners and residents are becoming familiar with you but what would people be surprised to find out about you? Any life-changing experiences that changed your direction?
“I visited Africa on a mission trip when I was in high school and that made a huge impact on my life. Here I was, country girl from North Carolina who had really never been out of the state my entire life, except maybe to South Carolina, and I left for Africa. We stayed in a town in Zaire. It was very impoverished – extremely poor. I had never seen an area like that. They lived in small wooden huts and there were no roads. I got malaria while I was over there – they give you the shots before you go but I still got it. I was over there for two or three weeks, but when it came time to go, I didn’t want to leave. The people there are very poor but they are the most genuine people you will ever meet. They don’t have anything but they will give you the shirt off their back if you need it. We have so much over here but I realized while I was there that I would rather live with people who are truly genuine than to come back here and have all that we have. I didn’t want to leave Africa. People were kidding me when we were over there because I was one of those people who didn’t leave the house unless I had spent a couple of hours on my hair but while I was there, I saw how they just get up and start the day and don’t worry about stuff like that. When I came back home, I didn’t spend so much time on my hair or getting ready and I am like that now. I just jump up, get out of bed and start the day. That trip was the most awesome thing I had ever done.”
Q: Did you ever go back? Take any more mission trips?
“I didn’t go back but after I came back home and went to school to become an accountant, I got involved with several local non-profits and helped them with bookkeeping, especially those non-profits that are involved in helping the countries of Africa.”
Q: Is your career now the one you dreamed of growing up?
“I wanted to be a hair-stylist and dreamed of one day owning my own shop and having a spa. I did go to Mitchell’s and got my degree there. I later went to N.C. State to take accounting classes because I wanted to make sure I knew how to run my own business but I ended up staying and then I got focused on accounting. For many years, I worked with businesses who were bankrupt or struggling financially, helping them to find a way to stay in business.”
Q: You were raised in the Raleigh area. How did you come about settling in the eastern Wake area?
“I have been in this area for four years. I was looking for a place to start my business and a place to put my daughter in school. I had also met my (second) husband, who lives in Knightdale, and I liked the place. I remembered when I sort of looked at my priorities and decided I needed to change some things. I had a flat tire and one of the guys noted I had driven 4,700 miles in one year. When people used to ask me where I worked, I would tell them ’40, 440 and 540’ because I spent all my time on the road traveling. I decided I didn’t want to travel so much any more and I wanted to get away from the Raleigh area so I decided to locate here. We live between Wendell and Knightdale.”
Q: And then you heard about the chamber job?
“When I began working for the chamber, I realized it was the perfect job for me. It was right up my alley because I had dealt with businesses and helping them improve their business. Part of that was connecting these businesses to each other. Now, I can bring that knowledge and skill here. I love what I am doing, I am having a lot of fun and I get to invest in my own community – it is great.”
Correspondent Dena Coward