"You definitely get back more than you give": Linda Estell
Commerce Bank Community Service Award Winner
When you walk into the Miriam Switching Post looking for an armoire or some artwork, what you’re almost sure to find is Linda Estell.
Linda is the recipient of the 2019 Commerce Bank Community Service Award, which recognizes individuals who make an exceptional contribution to their community. She is also the driving force and the true find at the upscale resale shop, located in Brentwood. Stop by and you might find her staging furniture, pricing collectibles, or planning an event, all in support of the Miriam Foundation. The shop’s profits are used to support programs that improve the lives of children with learning differences through the innovative and comprehensive programs at Miriam School, Miriam Learning Center and Miriam Academy.
“I cannot overstate the impact of Linda on Miriam through her dedication, business savvy, ability to work with volunteers, and hard work,” says the Executive Director of Miram Foundation, Andy Thorp.
Linda and her husband moved to St. Louis 38 years ago. A high school teacher by education, Linda chose instead to be a stay-home mom to her children, who now live out of state. While she had volunteered previously at her childrens’ school and the Junior League, Linda found her passion in the mission at Miriam. “It’s my fun place to go and accomplish things that are really valuable to the community,” she says. In her 18 years with the organization, Linda has gone from volunteer to leader to member of the Board of Directors. “People let me do all kinds of things I didn’t know I knew how to do.”
When Linda started at the Switching Post, the shop was only making $29,000 per year. She was part of a group that got to work making necessary changes to improve the business and help it grow. “We’re a for-profit shop that supports an non-profit, ” says Linda. And, thanks to Linda’s hard work, store profits will near $400,000 at the end of this fiscal year—money which will directly impact Miriam School families through tuition assistance. “As I like to say, that is a lot of sofas,” says Andy. “I can say with confidence that this increase would not have happened without Linda’s involvement. It was her leadership and decision-making that made this possible.”
It’s not just the shop that’s seen significant growth over the years. “I used to be extremely shy. And lots of people won’t believe that,” says Linda with a laugh. In college, she dropped a required speech class three times because she was uncomfortable in front of a group. Today, she is a member of the Miriam Board of Directors. “This has helped me learn skills and get opportunities to grow and do and contribute.”
Linda is still growing and planning for the future, for herself and the shop. She leads the Switching Post staff of 47 volunteers, ranging from retirees to Miriam students acting as summer interns. “It’s a wonderful group of people who are so talented, who bring their talents with them,” she says. They bring energy and new approaches to the business, too. A younger volunteer suggested listing items for sale on social media and eBay to reach a wider community outside of St. Louis. It’s an idea Linda embraced, despite not actually owning a computer herself.
“I have lots of ideas, but I could never accomplish any of them if I didn’t have all these people to call. And then they give you more ideas and support. Engage other people. You’ll have more fun! And accomplish more.” Linda feels that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is being able to meet people whose paths she otherwise would never have crossed. Every day at the shop she gets hugs. She’s also become close friends with several shoppers. “They’ve become some of the most important people in my life now,” she says. “They’re my St. Louis family.”
One of those new friends is a curator at the St. Louis Zoo, who suggested that Linda might also enjoy volunteering at the Children’s Zoo. Now, every Friday morning, you can find Linda helping children interact with the animals. “It takes me back to a different level of volunteering,” says Linda. “It makes me smile a lot.”
Her advice for potential volunteers? “Just take that first step and join or ask other people to join you. A lot of people need to be asked. People asked me to do this,” she recalls. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have just walked in there and said ‘I’m here! You need my help!’ And then they let me do things. So I did! There’s always more to do.”
About the Commerce Bank Community Service Award
The Commerce Bank Community Service Award is dedicated to recognizing individuals who make an exceptional contribution to their community and the people who live there. A special grant is given in the name of the honoree to the nonprofit agency of the honoree’s choice. The potential award recipients are identified through a thoughtful consultation process with groups that include community and civic leaders. Commerce Bank officers select the Community Service Award recipient.