Melissa Sturgis has made starting over an art form. As her husband, Doug, built a career as a geologist for ExxonMobil, Sturgis managed to incorporate her skills and interests, from public reactions and development to education and theater, into each new city: Houston, London, Anchorage, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), and many more.
So when Doug retired and it was time for both of them to start over, Melissa was able to lead the way; she had already learned the importance of getting involved, making connections, and staying plugged into her community.
“It’s important for your mental health and your physical health,” she says. “Whether you have family nearby or not, the people you meet become your family, helping you out in your time of need. It’s so important to get to know who’s living in your community.”
Volunteering is so important to the couple that it played a huge role as they decided where to relocate. A Google search took her to Mill Village Ministries, she made a call (from Alaska!) to Jessica Compton, youth director at Mill Village Farms, and they’ve been dedicated to the organization ever since.
“We really believe in what they are doing, educating youth, giving them a sense of responsibility and worth, and teaching life skills,” she says. “We love volunteering there.”
Mapping their future
The Sturgises were at a crossroads. No longer beholden to a high-pressure job, with two grown children, they knew they could start over in any location. She’s originally from Ohio and he’s from New Jersey, but they wanted milder winters. They enjoyed a visit to Asheville, but the vibe wasn’t quite right.
Then they visited Greenville. “We loved it!” she says—the nearby mountains and beach, the four seasons, the people, the theaters. They were ready to pack their bags.
They arrived in February of 2021 and the next week were already hard at work volunteering. Doug focuses primarily on Mill Village Farms, serving as a handyman and preparing farm beds. He also does food share box deliveries every Wednesday. Melissa is serving as volunteer coordinator, working to unify all five entities of the Mill Village program and establish volunteer recognition programs, among other tasks.
“Their passion and involvement for all things Mill Village Ministries has been apparent since the day they arrived,” says Dan Weidenbenner, executive director. “We often call them our ‘superstar volunteers,’ since they are both ready and willing to help whenever possible.”
A lifelong actress with a master’s degree in theater, Melissa Sturgis is also closely involved with Mill Town Players in Pelzer. A meeting with executive director Will Ragland during a house-hunting trip further cemented her desire to make Greenville her home.
“I was blown away,” she says. She has acted, most recently as Oiser in “Steel Magnolias,” and also works behind the scenes. Doug has assisted with set construction for several productions.
After years of finding her place in numerous locations, including homeschooling her kids in Malaysia, becoming certified in education, and doing PR for the Alaska Sea Life Center in Anchorage, Melissa has realized that she and Doug can make a difference in any location, and create great life experiences and relationships in the process.
“It’s important for everyone to get engaged,” she says. “Try to find something—your church, the arts, picking up litter alongside the road. Just try to make a difference and reach out and get to know people.”
Her pet peeve? People who sit behind a computer, say unhelpful things on the internet, and do nothing but complain.
That’s just not Melissa Sturgis’s style. “Be the change you want to see,” she says.
Mill Village Ministries: A Closer Look
Mill Village Farms: a youth development program for under-resourced teens focused on sustainable agriculture
Village Wrench: Offers free bike repair and bike-related earning opportunities in mill village neighborhoods.
Village Launch: Equipping under-resourced youth and adult entrepreneurs with training, personal development, and no-interest loans
Village Engage: Working to bring social justice issues to the faith community
For more information: millcommunity.org, 864.351.8865