by Jeanne Lesinski

Maggie Yrlas greets the stranger with a nervous giggle prefacing her handshake. Yet when this 2009 Saginaw Valley State University graduate in international business and marketing starts to speak about her passions—family, Saginaw, personal growth and giving back—her warmth shines through. She works in customer service for Public Employee Benefits Solutions, an employee benefits consulting agency for public entities. Even after working with the public all day, she turns her gaze to her community because, as she says, "Saginaw will rise again." When she hears people say, "Saginaw sucks, I wanna leave," she asks, "Well, what are you doing to help?" Yrlas has been active with a number of organizations, including La Union Cívica and the Great Lakes Bay Regional Hispanic Leadership Institute.

Jeanne Lesinski: Tell me a little about the Leadership Institute.

Maggie Yrlas: It's a program that meets once a month for five hours in the morning or afternoon... We learn about leadership styles, how to deal with conflict in a group, and how to network with others in the community. I want to get as much knowledge and networking as I can, so when I started with the Leadership Institute, I decided to look for a greater variety of opportunities. One of the requirements is that you have to do 40 hours of community service.

JL: How do you find out what kind of opportunities are out there?

MY: Sometimes it's hard to find out what's going on. I use 1-800-VOLUNTEER to get listings from the United Way website: www.unitedwaybaycounty.org. And I use Facebook.

JL: Do you have a favorite group to work with?

MY: Kids. I really like to work with kids. I've done some tutoring on the weekends and work at the museum in Saginaw.

JL: Your degree is in international business. Are you bilingual?

MY: I can read [Spanish] and understand it, but I get nervous when I speak it. My parents are bilingual...and I'm trying to learn more and get back into it. I think there's a need to be bilingual now. With the world growing smaller, it's great if you have an extra language. A friend of mine, we get together to watch soap operas in Spanish.

JL: You describe yourself as a news junkie?

MY: Yes, I read the newspapers, online news, 360 Main Street, and Facebook to keep up on what's going on in the area. I want to know what's going on in the world and in Saginaw. How can I help my community if I don't know what's going on?

JL: After working with people all day and then volunteering, how do you keep yourself from burning out?

MY: My family. Sometimes I just want to relax with a good book. But, my Dad passed away four years ago...My sisters all have families, and I'm living with my Mom, so I say, "Let's step back...Mom let's go out to dinner."

Sometimes I do have bad days. I go back to my favorite Mother Teresa quote: "I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much." Start out fresh.

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2010