Michelle Bahl Raymer ’06 has made a habit of taking the road less traveled. She did this literally through service work with the Peace Corps in Guinea, West Africa, as well as through her career path in the nonprofit sector.
Raymer’s fascination with the wider world began during college at Central, where she triple majored in political science, Spanish and international studies. During a semester studying abroad in Granada, Spain, she learned to view the world from a global perspective and knew she wanted to travel more in the future.
Post-college, the Peace Corps presented a great option to serve abroad. “Right after graduation, my husband and I got married and 11 days later we left for the Peace Corps,” Raymer says. The couple wanted to do service work internationally, and they chose the Peace Corps because it also provided three months of intensive language, cultural and technical training in the country before their work began.
While in Guinea, Raymer worked teaching English. After eight months in the country, government unrest led to volunteers being pulled out. But once back in the U.S., Raymer continued looking for ways to make a difference through her work. She started making a name for herself in the Des Moines nonprofit sector, first volunteering for AmeriCorps VISTA then eventually being hired on as a staff member.
When grant funding ended for that position—a common occurrence in the nonprofit world—Raymer worked at Community Housing Initiatives, an organization dedicated to building affordable housing across the state. Later, she worked for Community Youth Concepts and recently took a position with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service. She also serves as secretary and was one of the founders of the Des Moines branch of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. The group focuses on providing young professionals in the nonprofit field with development opportunities such as networking and training.
Though a career in nonprofits may not be top-of-mind for most college students, Raymer says she wishes more students looked at the field as an option. “During college I don’t know if I really thought about nonprofits as a professional career path,” she says, “but I knew I wanted to do something that would have a bigger purpose. Coming back to the United States after the Peace Corps … I realized that was where my passion lay.”
Raymer looks back to her time at Central as providing a firm foundation for her career. She says her political science classes continue to inform her work today, as well as her study abroad experience in Spain. “I learned so much there,” she says.
In her role as a program officer at the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, Raymer wears many hats. She supports the Volunteer Generation Fund, which provides for volunteer centers across the state. She also helps to coordinate disaster response efforts, and she works to support the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Working for a nonprofit often doesn’t translate into an easy job description, but Raymer enjoys the variety. She says, “It can be challenging, but it can also be really great to get experience in all those different areas.”