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50 Faces of CEAP: Michelle Ness

Michelle Ness joined CEAP’s Board in 2009 because she wanted to get more involved in our community. She has a Master’s in Social Work, so she decided to join the local social service provider in the area, and her search quickly led her to CEAP. “Whichever organization is in my community, that’s who I wanted to know more about,” Michelle said. 

During Michelle’s tenure on the Board, CEAP was undergoing a major project to collaborate with Hennepin County to create the Northwest Family Service Center, the building we are located in now. “This was a great opportunity to be a hub for resources,” says Michelle. The Northwest Family Service Center is currently home to CEAP, Hennepin County Public Health and Human Services, and Osseo Area Schools Early Childhood Enrollment and Continuing Education Centers.  

In 2013, Michelle stepped down from CEAP’s Board when she began a new role as Executive Director at PRISM, a food shelf and social services organization based in Golden Valley. Michelle has maintained a close relationship with Clare, CEAP’s President, and sees her as a confidante. “Relationships are really key to how we can successfully do this work. The better coordinated we are, the more impact we can have,” Michelle says. “In nonprofits we can’t have self-interest. I think of CEAP and PRISM as sister organizations, not competitors.” 

Although the pandemic accelerated and put a spotlight on challenges that our community faces, Michelle emphasizes that hunger and the need for basic supports is not new. She says it’s important for people to know that pandemic or not, the government doesn’t pay for everything that organizations like us do and for all the needs of our community. A nonprofit’s role is to pick up the pieces where public systems and programs don’t reach, and that role becomes especially critical during a public health emergency. “Those who PRISM and CEAP serve were already the most vulnerable people in our community, and the most likely to face the worst outcomes from COVID,” Michelle says. 

“CEAP and PRISM are here because our community wills us to be here. It’s our job then to gather people who have a will to do good and facilitate that. It’s a heavy lift and everyone needs to do their part – not just once, but on the regular.”