Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.
Diane Fleser serves as the executive director of Disability Network West Michigan, a nonprofit that provides independent living resources for people with disabilities in a five-county area.
She brings 16 years of professional experience to her new role at the Muskegon-based organization, including six years with the Michigan National Guard that featured a 12-month deployment to Iraq.
Since 2010, Fleser has worked in a variety of roles with nonprofits in the area, including six years working with vulnerable populations and four years in program development and design.
Biggest career break?
A facility where I worked during college started up and closed within three years. This forced me back into the job market, and I landed at a large, private nonprofit that provided the foundation for a lot of my growth. It also planted the desire to return to school as I realized the effectiveness of working for adaptive, responsible leaders. Along the way, I’ve had great mentors but have definitely learned what NOT to do also.
Outside of being a mother to an amazing 10-year-old, I’d have to say getting into the Interdisciplinary Health Science program at Western Michigan University to pursue my Ph.D.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“The affairs of the world will go on forever. Do not delay the practice of meditation.” In a complex world — and what can be an even more complex field — this advice is priceless.
How did you make your first dollar?
I grew up in rural Oceana County, and my first job was picking asparagus at the Asparagus Research Farm in Hart as a teenager. I still think about the lessons learned while harvesting plots, which showed me the value of hard work through the example of the family who operated the farm. It wasn’t an immediate connection, but upon reflection, I believe this is where my interest in research was instilled.
I love looking at family photo albums, especially one my mom put together and one that’s been put together for my daughter. It seems like a lost concept today, but there’s great nostalgia in flipping through the stiff pages in anticipation of what might be next and then being transported to that moment. Some of my favorite pictures include those with my grandma or pictures of my aunts confidently showcasing their huge ‘80s hair.
I would love to be a field tester for outdoor gear products. My family loves backpacking, kayaking and camping.
If you were president for a day, you would…?
Request a vacation day for the following day. In all seriousness, there is real fear regarding many issues, including the impact of Medicaid cuts in the GOP health plan and the implications this could have on independent living. With only one day, I would certainly spend it advocating for persons with disabilities.
Last book you read?
Outside of books for school? Leisure reading is tough, but the last book I started is “The Geography of Genius,” by Eric Weiner.
Last search term you googled?
“Higher Grounds blends.” My husband recently bought me a blend of coffee from this roaster, and I was having a hard time remembering which blend it was. I now know it was Awaken.
Your worst habit?
Probably my dependence on coffee.
To unwind, you like to…?
Get outside. Whether in the garden or taking advantage of our beautiful lakeshore, connecting to the earth brings instant release.
I have always wanted to go to New Zealand.
I have celiac disease, which limits a lot of what I can have. I’ve also been a vegetarian for over half my life now. Mexican food is always a good go-to for me.
Person you most admire?
I admire a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. People have so many different strengths, and I admire anyone’s ability to move toward their goals and desires on a daily basis.