TEMPE, Ariz. — Michelle Vukov-Mikel and Michele Ramirez have been honored as the U-Haul® Volunteers of the Year for 2023.
At the end of each year, U-Haul recognizes the Team Member(s) who has volunteered the most hours, supported the greatest number of U-Haul charity partners, and inspired others to follow in their footsteps. This marked the first year for two employees to share the award.
Vukov-Mikel, an administrative assistant, and Ramirez, a Truck/Trailer Development specialist, received their award during the Company’s annual holiday party at the U-Haul Technical Center in Tempe, Ariz., where they work. U-Haul President John “J.T.” Taylor was in attendance and had his photo taken with the distinguished recipients.
For Vukov-Mikel and Ramirez, providing service to charitable causes has been the catalyst for a lasting friendship.
“I’ve volunteered for years, and it makes me so happy,” Vukov-Mikel said. “I’m proud to represent U-Haul at all the service projects and events that the Company makes available. I always encourage other Team Members at the Tech Center to come volunteer with me and experience it for themselves.”
In 2022, Vukov-Mikel invited Ramirez to a U-Haul volunteer event at St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, where they helped assemble emergency food boxes for people in need. Ramirez was hooked on giving back from that point.
“I had thought about volunteering before, but Michelle inviting me was the motivation I needed to just go and do it,” Ramirez said. “Now we attend most of the U-Haul volunteer events together. We get to socialize and have fun with each other, and it makes me that much happier to go to work every day. It helps work feel even more meaningful and purposeful, and it makes me feel fulfilled.”
Things that matter
Vukov-Mikel and Ramirez attended 11 U-Haul volunteer events in 2023. Despite their professional responsibilities and busy personal lives, they always seek opportunities to dedicate their time to benefit noble causes and help the less fortunate.
“Michele and I have a tradition where every time we volunteer for a Saturday morning event at St. Mary’s Food Bank, we make sure to meet up beforehand, carpool there and back, and then celebrate a job well-done with some breakfast at a local IHOP®,” Vukov-Mikel said. “Because we live on the same side of the Valley, we’re able to use that carpooling time to catch up about work, family and outside interests. It’s become our thing and it makes volunteering even more of a special occasion.”
“Volunteering keeps me grounded, and it reminds me that I have so much in life to be thankful for,” Ramirez added. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, that you forget how many people could really use your help. I think service reflects who you are, and the fact that U-Haul both encourages and facilitates service through all its volunteer events is a great reflection of the Company.”
Enthusiastic and dedicated
Senior Program Manager Norman Dudley is Ramirez’s supervisor. He said there’s an observable impact from Ramirez’s volunteering.
“(Ramirez) is a fantastic go-getter,” Dudley stated. “She is the ultimate team player, and is always willing to jump in and help out on any task. Her passion and enthusiasm for the work we do inspires us all to produce better results. She does a superb job balancing both job and life demands, including volunteering. Her ability to stay organized comes in handy all the time, especially with the frequent events that our department puts on. It would be mass chaos without her.”
Truck Product Director Jeremy Donohue, who manages Vukov-Mikel, expressed admiration for her commitment to volunteering in good times and bad.
“Michelle’s been through some difficult experiences in life, but consistently remains focused on helping others,” Donohue said. “She’ll do anything for anybody, and goes above and beyond when someone asks her for help. She takes pride in serving her community. Michelle has been volunteering for as long as I’ve known her. Even if she has to stay late or come in early to get her work done so she can volunteer during the day, she’ll do so. Most of us say, ‘I don’t have time to volunteer.’ But Michelle actually makes the time to do it.”
To read more about previous U-Haul Volunteers of the Year, click here.