For someone who never applied to work for Arc of Greater New Orleans, Michelle Chaisson has had an indelible mark on the landscape of the non-profit. Director of human resources today, many staff would be surprised to learn that Chaisson never had intentions of working in HR, let alone that the department did not exist when she began working for ArcGNO in September of 1993.
Chaisson’s road to ArcGNO was unusual, to say the least. In search for an executive assistant position, she applied to work with the executive director of Raintree, a nonprofit serving at-risk children and youth. It just so happened that the executive director at Raintree was married to ArcGNO’s future executive director, Cliff Doescher. Chaisson’s resume was then handed over to Doescher and the rest is history!
As Chaisson worked as an executive assistant, she began to see a need for a human resources department. “Our accounting department was trying to do a small part of the human resources piece,” Chaisson recalls. She went back to school to earn her HR certifications in 2001 and immediately set to work creating the HR department. In 2005, ArcGNO hired its first two human resources employees. When asked to describe the early days, Michelle states, “There was no consistency…people did their own advertising for their own positions. Our benefits were all over the place.” She recalls having to completely redo all employee files to be in compliance with national standards. Today, ArcGNO’s HR department oversees nearly 300 employees. Looking at the efficiency of the department today, you would never suspect such humble beginnings.
Unlike most ArcGNO employees, Chaisson did not have a connection to adults with disabilities prior to working for ArcGNO. As time went on, however, she developed a close connection to the population. “I came here for the benefits, but then I fell in love with the clients and didn’t want to leave,” states Chaisson. She goes so far as to joke that she prefers working with the clients over employees. Joking aside, the conversation turns serious as Chaisson reflects on one client in particular who had a lasting impact on her. “I used to have George come in…he would come and tell us a story every day. He made my day everyday…and I was like, this is my place.” George passed away suddenly a few years ago, but Chaisson carries his memory with her to this day.
Over her 25 years with ArcGNO, Chaisson has created a department from nothing, forged strong bonds with those we support, and held a vital role on more event committees than you could even fathom. She has earned the utmost respect and appreciation for helping to transform ArcGNO into the organization it is today.