Local volunteer finds ways to give even when she’s receiving

When Michelle Morford learned she was receiving a community service award from her employer she figured out a way to use it to serve the community.

“Whenever anything really good happens to me, I kind of like to give back,” Morford said. “It’s the community’s support that really has helped my business grow.”

Morford has worked for Country Financial since 2009 and recently learned she was being honored by the company for her volunteer efforts in Lebanon.

One of her most visible volunteer roles is manager of the Lebanon Downtown Farmers’ Market.

She sponsored a customer appreciation event on Aug. 24 to coincide with a video interview Country Financial was doing to highlight her efforts.

The creative services content team from the Illinois-based company originally wanted to visit Lebanon in October.

“When I found out that they decided to come in and do this, I wanted them to come in and see the market when it was in its peak,” Morford said.

To make the market event special for customers, Morford gave out $500 worth of shopping tokens. She even shared with members of Country Financial’s video crew and encouraged to sample some of Lebanon’s produce.

She also did a drawing for a gift basket valued at $100. The giving was contagious.

Samaritan decided to a gift basket drawing as well, and some other vendors gave out prizes on their own, she said.

The process of making the video started in July when Morford was interviewed in her Albany office. That interview was audio-only to potentially be used as voice over in the video.

When the video crew arrived in August, they followed Morford for three days, including her time at the farmers market.

“That was exciting, but exhausting,” Morford said. “I gained some new respect for actors. Move here, move there. They filmed me going in and out of my door a couple of times and out of my car several times.

“The next day too, they took me out in my car and had me drive around in Lebanon for two hours while they filmed me,” Morford said. “They had a little drone camera that they flew around the car, so it was the full-blown deal!”

In addition to the recognition, Morford received $3,000 for community giving.

Part of what Morford appreciates about working for Country Financial is its focus on building relationships, including with the community, she said.

“(They) a really good program that encourages us to do community involvement,” Morford said.

If she sponsors an event, the company pays half of the cost.

“As a single parent with a little kid, it allowed me to be able to be a big giver to causes and events

and make the money go further because they would cover half the cost,” she said.

Morford moved to Lebanon after a divorce.

“My parents helped me get back on my feet when I first came to Oregon,” Morford said. “I had a 3- year-old, a car and $800.”

She said her manager took a chance on her when he hired her because she didn’t know anybody in town that would constitute a “natural market,” not a lot of family and no friends.

“When I went to my very first (Lebanon Chamber of Commerce) function and I introduced myself, I said I wanted to get to know people and really become part of a place because I moved around so much growing up, that I never really had any long-term friends and never felt like I ever had a home,” Morford said.

She said by the time she was in high school, she gave up on trying to make friends because she thought she was going to have to move anyway.

She said her father moved a lot for work reasons.

“I just didn’t have anywhere I stayed for any period of time,” Morford said.

She wanted to make sure that her daughter, who is now an adult, did not have to move around a lot.

The training Morford received when she hired at Country Financial was not only about product knowledge but about building relationships, she said.

“If you can imagine, you’re always moving around and you’re not really making friends, you don’t have a lot of skills on building relationships so it was a really good thing for me to go through,” she said.

“They were really about trying to teach the skills that I really wanted to have anyway.”

She went from not knowing anyone to being named Lebanon Junior First Citizen in 2012.

“I had built up a good reputation and been really involved in my community,” Morford said. “I felt I was part of a place and I had a home.”