County employee awarded for helping first time voter

Kelly Chapman is being honored with Ottawa County’s quarterly customer service award for literally going the extra mile to help a client vote for the very first time.

The county honors one employee and one outside person once every quarter with the award recognizing above-and-beyond customer service.

A committee of about a dozen county employees administers the award, committee member Regina MacMillan says.

Chapman honestly doesn't see the big deal, she says. She knows what her clients are going through, and she is helping them be the best possible versions of themselves.

Having worked through her own mental health issues, the certified peer support specialist at Ottawa County Community Mental Health can come alongside people and use her own story to empower them.

“Recovery is possible,” she says. “I’m living proof. I’m going to be your cheerleader.”

Chapman has been a peer support specialist with the county for 11 years.

Although the client she helped was interested in politics, he had never voted before. The man, who is not being named for privacy reasons, is a senior. 

“Fear has kept him away from the polls for so many years,” Chapman says.
She offered to drive him to the polls on Election Day, but as the time grew nearer, anxiety took hold.

“He said ‘I know if I get around all those people standing in line I’m going to panic. I’m not going to do it,’” Chapman says.

After Chapman explained he could vote absentee at City Hall, the man agreed.

“He put the ballot in the box and we were walking out. We were heading to the car, and he said ‘Ya know I feel kinda powerful.’ And I said ‘you should. You just made your voice heard.”

Ottawa County started the customer service awards in September 2013 to promote “the Ottawa Way” — the four Cs of customer service, communication, creativity, and cultural intelligence. The award encourages staff to be flexible in dealing with challenging situations.

“There are definitely a lot of unique situations that come up that we probably wouldn’t hear about otherwise. It’s been really eye opening and really heart-warming to hear,” MacMillan says. “For me personally, she was able to remain neutral and let the consumer decide for themselves.”

She didn't talk politics, only encouraged him to let his voice be heard.

Chapman admits to feeling a bit sheepish about accepting the award. 

“The truth of the matter is I did jack,” she says. “He did it all. I drove the car. He did the hard work. … I felt like he deserved an award. It’s tough work to face your fears. He was a different person on the drive back.”

She hasn’t told him she won.

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.