By Jaylyn Cook
Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Herald & Review in Decatur, Ill. sits down for a Q&A with Melverta Wilkins the “Product Change Engineer” at Caterpillar Inc., and founder and president of “Sista Girls and Friends.”
Question: What does an average day for you look like?
A: My day starts early each morning with prayer and meditation. Tony, my husband of 35 years, and I use mornings to pray together and to communicate what plans are made for the day and for later when we meet back home.
There are mornings I start rather early at Caterpillar, depending on what is planned for the day. Once my day ends at Caterpillar, where I have worked 18 years, I (move on to) Sista Girls and Friends or other community, church or political activities.
These are my passions and ministries for my life! My day ends much like it begin at home with my husband and my family.
Question: Your nonprofit organization, Sista Girls and Friends, has been working to empower girls and young women in the area since 2013. Why is the work that you do through the group important to you?
A: We learn so many things in life along the way. SGAF is my way of giving back what I have learned and nuggets I can share.
What I have done is harvested what I have learned on my journey, what could have been better, what we could have been completed differently and what resources would have made a difference and as a return on investment, I am giving it back to my community.
As women, we are empowered to make a difference in our lives and those who depend on us. The difference may be simple as a change in a breakfast recipe or as complex as being a CEO of your own organization — however large or small, we are in control.
Self-esteem is powerful (and) dreams and visions are necessary. Young women and girls are so precious. The girls in our program are in their forming years. They are so smart and absolutely beautiful, and they are just a small sample of many girls their age.
It is our goal to teach them more about choices, and provide guidance and understanding to life‘s challenges along the way. Mentoring is the key and giving back and teaching back are the doors to help in their journey to their success. This work is important and necessary, which is why this group this work is so important to me. It is a serious matter.
Question: Who have been some of the biggest influences and inspirations in your life?
A: I have been a church member all my life and there have been so many pastors and church leaders who deliver powerful and excellent words and messages.
As a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which is the first African-American Greek letter organization founded in 1908, I get the opportunity to meet many influential women in various fields. I read books, I love TED talks and I am amazed at all the wonderful people who make up this world and have impacted me.
However, my biggest influence and inspiration is my family — especially my husband, who is my best friend (and) the father of my two beautiful children. He prays for me and keeps me grounded.
Also my mom and dad, as God rests their souls, who invested in me, lead me to Christ, taught me and gave instruction daily and loved me unconditionally. My sisters and my brothers who paved the way for me and loved me truly, my large family of aunts, uncles and cousins and my special friends who I grew up with like sisters: Yvette, Kay, Vernadene, Brenda, Aldenette, Carolyn and Sharolyn, Ann and my sisters Cheryl and Joyce Dale.
I thank God almighty for these people being a major influence and inspiration. What they have given me from the beginning is more love, memories, influence and inspiration than I could ever ask in life and what I have been given, I freely give back.
Question: Outside of work, how do you like to spend your free time?
A: I love spending time with my family, cooking, eating and shopping. We love all sports and will travel to games!
Recently, we were able to buy a building that houses SGAF and Prestige. We have a loft in the building that we rent to the community that we call the Lucy Loft and Co., named after my mom, Lucille Young, a Christian woman who is my biggest inspiration.
My mom was all about the empowerment of women and girls, holistic wellness and entrepreneurship. We also use the building for fundraising events for the organization. So much of our free time is spent at the loft. It’s an extension of home and I want everyone who visits to feel the same.
Question: If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
A: Extra loving leader.