IT’S 8 A.M. on a Thursday morning. Orange traffic cones line a section of Market Street and workers in reflective safety vests dot the median on hands and knees. As weeds pile up, laughter can be heard.
They're working, but having fun as well. These are volunteers from Kudos Kirkland – “Kudos” for short. For two hours every week, they clean up some part of the city.
It all began in 2011 when West of Market resident Michelle Sailor walked past the downtown and saw how they’d swept and spruced up their storefront with flowers, a table and chairs.
Michelle had noticed that downtown Kirkland could look disheveled, especially after a weekend, with litter, weeds and vandalized flower pots. When she saw the salon entry, an idea popped into her head. “If every business would maintain their storefront and make it look nice," she thought, "downtown would look so much better.”
She began a campaign to give “kudos” to downtown businesses that fix up their entrance areas, hoping it would inspire other store owners to do the same.
Since then, Kudos has evolved into a volunteer group. When Public Works didn’t have enough staff to , Michelle suggested a partnership. She recruited her neighbors, and now Kudos volunteers help Public Works crews all over town.
“I think we get caught up in thinking we have to do the big things. It’s the little things that make a difference,” she says.
Projects have included weeding, litter pickup, removing a rusty chain link fence along a pedestrian trail and park restoration. Soon Kudos will adopt a section of the .
Michelle says the work is uplifting and satisfying. “You meet some really nice people. You learn about what’s going on in town. You get that instant gratification.”
She hopes that people who see the group working will be inspired to form Kudos teams elsewhere in Kirkland.
The little things might make a difference, but Michelle, a Kirkland resident for only seven years, is responsible for some pretty big things as well.
She also spearheaded the creation of the St. Patrick’s Day and is one of the organizers of the upcoming . She is also the chairperson of the Market Neighborhood Association. Her energy and enthusiasm seem boundless.
MICHELLE GREW UP in New Orleans, the social and outgoing youngest of four children. “I was always involved in something,” she says. “President of the student executives, appeal board, honor board, volleyball.”
After attending college in Memphis she returned to New Orleans to work as a cardiology nurse and then in cardiovascular device training and sales. Marriage took her to Charlotte, North Carolina.
Her husband, Robert “Bob” Bersin, a cardiologist at Swedish Hospital, had grown up and gone to medical school in California, and was eager to return to the West Coast.
Michelle and Bob arrived in Kirkland in August, 2005. That November they attended the . Michelle says she was smitten by the bonfires, lights and singing. “It had that Norman Rockwell feel,” she remembers. She still loves Kirkland’s small town charm.
After years of extensive business travel all over the U.S., Michelle was happy when her job ended in 2006 and she had time for volunteering.
“I wanted to get more involved because I didn’t know a lot of people,” she says. “(Volunteering) was my way to get connected to the community.”
Michelle likes the fact that Kirkland welcomes citizen participation. “Here if you have a good idea, you can go somewhere with it,” she says. “If you want to get involved, you can get involved.”
Michelle is happiest when she’s outdoors and physically active. “This is the perfect area to go running or walking,” she says. She also likes biking, and has ridden in the Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride three times. You can often see her walking with her German Shepherd, Beowulf, and her pug, Stella.
Michelle and Bob enjoy exploring Puget Sound and the San Juans in their motor boat, “The Office.” They also love exploring the world. Bob frequently attends medical conferences, and Michelle goes along whenever she can. This year they’ve been to Paris, Rome, Venice and Costa Rica.
In addition to her passion for beautification, Michelle is passionate about events. She thinks that Kirkland should capitalize on its unique waterfront location.
“We’re one of the few places on the lake. It makes sense to have more events here,” she says. She’d like to see more events in other parts of Kirkland, such as Juanita Beach. “Kirkland is much bigger than downtown.”
Her biggest beef with Kirkland? Cigarette butts. “They do not degrade, they stay there forever,” she says. She applauds businesses that sweep their storefronts and people who use the ashtrays dotted around town.
Michelle is excited about the music, theater, and art that will be at SummerFest, but she won’t be able to attend the event she’s spent hours helping to organize. You see, Michelle has two stepsons. Bradford is a nuclear engineer and Brenton is a rookie free agent with the North Carolina Panthers. On SummerFest weekend, Michelle and Bob will be attending the first preseason Panthers game.
If you would like to volunteer for Kudos Kirkland, or start a Kudos group in your area, you can contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.