Maxine W. Perry – Service Before Self

Tireless community advocate, domestic violence support champion and dedicated volunteer are just a few of the titles that describe this month’s Insight feature Maxine Perry. All who know her, and especially the countless people she has served during her career, can attest that she is one of those rare people who brighten a room simply by walking in with a smile.

After graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh in 2001, Perry began her work in the STOP Domestic Violence program at Behavioral Health Services North (BHSN). Her work as a legal advocate and later a community advocate regularly brought her face to face with victims of domestic violence. Much of her work introduced her to people whose life stories were full of strife, abuse, and challenge. Through it all she managed to keep her balance, and continue to provide kindness, support, and most of all, hope.

Despite Perry’s humble nature, her work and volunteerism have garnered the attention of several local groups over the years. She was named Businesswoman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women’s organization and has been honored as one of the Girl Scout Women of Distinction.

In 2015 Perry decided to retire, but like many great professionals, her passion for her work soon proved stronger than her desire to retire. “I found myself bored,” she recalled. “I realized that staying home was not my forte.” While discussing her predicament with fellow Rotarians, Perry connected with Mark Hamilton of the Plattsburgh Housing Authority where she landed her current part-time position. Her new role allows her to continue making a difference in people’s lives while slowing down a bit. In addition, Perry has retained her passion for many volunteer and civic organizations and continues to dedicate her time to her chosen causes.

The following is SB’s interview with Maxine Perry.

Occupation: Tenant Relations Coordinator, Plattsburgh Housing Authority
Hometowns: Aulander, North Carolina, and Portsmouth, Virginia
Family: Husband Percy L. Perry Jr., and three adult children
Education: B.S. in Social Work, SUNY Plattsburgh; A.A.S. in Community Service, Clinton Community College
Community Involvement: Coordinator, Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Committee; Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission in Clinton County; Vice President of RSVP in Clinton County; Board of Directors membership for JCEO and Literacy Volunteers; former Regional Representative for the New York State Coalition against Domestic Violence

SB: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

A lot of people ask me why I smile so much. When I was 19 or 20 I was working at General Electric. We had some conflicts with individuals trying to bring in the union. One day I must have looked mean or sad and one of the guys at work looked at me and said, ‘Oh Maxine, you’ve got to smile more, because when you smile, it brings value to your face.’ I thought, he is so right! When you smile, people smile back, and it makes you feel good.

SB: Do you have advice for someone starting out in their career?
If you want to be a part of the process, you’ve got to be willing to be a team player and be able to accept others. In some instances, people try to impress others and work by themselves instead of bringing the team together. Some individuals like to work independently. There is nothing wrong with that, but you can’t think of everything yourself. If you’ve got a team working together, you hear many ideas and can strive to select the best ideas that are going to work for the organization or project.

SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
One thing the North Country community can do is to seek more input and involvement from the younger generation, and not always go along with the status quo. That is a subject that I am passionate about. I hear people say, ‘That’s not the way we have done things in the past.’ Things are moving fast and if you want people to stay in this area, you’ve got to have more young people, women, and different cultures involved so they feel like they are a part of the process. I am glad to see that is starting to happen in the community.

I think individuals who are in positions that allow them to involve people could do more outreach. We don’t reach out to individuals from different places who have come here to make a home for themselves. This is a beautiful area. People love the area. Let’s all be more tolerant of others.

SB: What qualities do you believe are necessary for success?
I think honesty and a willingness to accept change. It’s very hard for some people to accept change, to go that extra mile sometimes, to be a team player.

SB: If you could have dinner or spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
Maya Angelou. She always had so much insight. One thing she said that I really loved is, ‘People will forget what you do, people will forget what you say, but people never forget how you make them feel.’ I love that.

SB: What are you proud of professionally?
I was proud to be a regional representative for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I was proud that I was able to bring organizations together to help make changes. I worked on committees to help improve the domestic violence laws. I worked with a group of wonderful women and a couple of men too. I was proud to be a part of an organization that brought about change to help women, children, and men who are victims and survivors of domestic violence. Many people rallied for over 20 years, talking to their Congress representatives about the laws that needed to change.

One of the things that we were finally able to change is that now you don’t have to be married to get an order of protection; you could be intimate partners. A lot of wonderful people were involved in that and I was glad that I was part of that organization that worked so hard.

SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
I would listen more. That is a small thing, but it is most important. Sometimes we have a tendency not to listen, especially when we have so much on our minds that what we are hearing doesn’t sink in. If you’re not an active listener, you can be listening but then you lose your train of thought. You listen, but you don’t get the gist of what the person is saying. Being a good listener is very important.

SB: How did you decide to make social work your life’s work?
I really liked helping people and working with people. Growing up, my dad was a minister, and we always helped people. Serving our community was just a thing that we were taught to do. That’s how I got into it.

SB: What is something no one knows about you?
I don’t like dark, dark clouds. As a child I once saw a tornado and all of the dark clouds around it. It tore through all the wooded areas and killed a few of our neighbors. I never liked them after that, and I am still afraid of dark clouds. When I see them forming I have this fear, thinking that dark clouds will bring damage to everything. They make me want to get somewhere and be safe.

SB: What inspires you?
Learning new things and meeting exciting people, especially young people who are doing things and making a difference.

SB: Drawing from your experience helping others through difficult situations, what advice can you give to people who are trying to help someone in need of support?
What I would say is to listen to that person. Offer options, but don’t tell them what to do. People have different values and sometimes we want people to follow our values. That is irritating to some individuals. Until you walk in that person’s shoes, try not to be judgmental. You want to be helpful, but yet you don’t want to coddle them. Give them the tools to make informed decisions, and enable them to become self- sufficient. You can’t do it for them. Meet the person where they are.

It is important to remember that you can’t always fix problems in one day. A lot of people want things to be fixed right away, and you just can’t. Also, remember that communication and follow up is so important. Ask that person how things are going and be there for them, when they need you. When I work with people now, I often think about what I’ve learned in Sunrise Rotary—helping individuals in the community with the motto, “Service Before Self.”