Fluvanna Faces: Marieke Henry, LMOA Communications Director

By Harvey J. Sorum, 

Are you a native of Fluvanna County?  If not, what brought you here?

Before I start, I would like to say I love this series and I am grateful you asked me to participate. I do want to point out that the statements below are my own and may not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association. 

I am not from Fluvanna County. I grew up in Wise County, Virginia, near the Tennessee border, but Central Virginia has always been special to me. I was a patient at the UVA Children’s Hospital and my family also vacationed at campgrounds along the Skyline Drive. Ten years ago, I was living in The Netherlands and got homesick for the Blue Ridge mountains. My husband and I started looking for a home in Charlottesville and quickly realized that Lake Monticello was much more affordable. I believe this is the very reason the demographics at Lake Monticello have shifted significantly in recent years (according to the most recent government census, 21 percent of our residents are of retirement age, and 24 percent of our residents are younger than 18). Folks find jobs in nearby cities and affordable housing at Lake Monticello. The fact the community has wonderful amenities our children can enjoy is a lucky bonus.

Why did you join the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association as the communications director? 

Timing is everything. COVID snuffed out my writing business which turned out to be a blessing. For over a year, I got to be a full-time homemaker and I absolutely loved it. Just when things started to open up again and the kids left me to return to a normal school schedule, I was asked to be Lake Monticello’s next communications director. It was serendipity, really. I can utilize my professional strengths, and the commute is just seven minutes. Perfect!

What is your favorite hobby? 

Writing and photography, so you can imagine how much I love my job at the Lake!

Any favorite books or movies? 

When I was 12 years old, I got a horrible case of chickenpox. The sores were literally everywhere which prevented me from breathing and swallowing without difficulty. I could only eat liquids. My mother’s best friend brought me Cup-a-Soup (which I had never had before) and a VHS tape of The Princess Bride, (which may be the only movie that surpasses its book). We did not have cable TV, so a VHS tape and synthetic soup were wonderful, worldly gifts that made me feel better immediately. While recovering on the couch, I watched that movie so many times I could recite it. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die…Anybody want a peanut?”  

What has been the most important event in your life? 

The birth of my children pushed me to the limit both mentally and physically. One minute I was flirting with death, then suddenly I was on top of the world. It was empowering, humbling, and completely humiliating all at the same time. What a rush!

Any favorite quotes? 

A creative writing teacher instructed my second grade class to write about a hero we would like to trade places with for a day. My story, which made my teacher belly-laugh, was called “I Like Me” and it was, well, all about me. Now that I am more humble and mature (motherhood does that to you), I have a hard time picking between Jesus Christ (just not on Good Friday), Dolly Parton, and Nelson Mandela. (By the way, I photographed Nelson Mandela during my internship in South Africa but never got to meet Dolly Parton even though I’ve been to Dollywood countless times.) My heroes all have really great quotes – but if I had to pick just one, it would be “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. That is the driving force behind all of my collaborations.

What are your goals in life? 

To build awareness, spark enthusiasm, and cultivate collaboration. During college, I attended the International Photojournalism Festival in Perpignan, France. Many press photos on display depicted devastation, and after viewing a few horrid photographs, my brain switched off. I became desensitized to the misery. Then this one particular exposition shook me awake. A female photographer captured images of children just doing normal kids’ stuff in the face of war and starvation. Their smiling faces told a story that was impossible to ignore because she humanized them. I took this lesson with me and applied it throughout my career. We all have one thing in common: we are human beings who long for connection. I found I was most effective when I worked from a place of common ground and relatability. Every project I work on has the underlying purpose of bringing people together. 

How do you apply those goals to your work at Lake Monticello?

 There are about 12,000 people living at Lake Monticello which is almost half of Fluvanna County’s population. With many of us being busy, young families who commute to work outside of Fluvanna County, it can be hard to feel connected, especially in a community that focuses a lot on active retirees. Before I started working here, people were already taking steps to serve a broader spectrum of residents. The Young Residents and Families Committee was created with the purpose to plan and facilitate new activities for younger people, and the Lake Monticello Community Foundation also recognized the need for an all-inclusive playground. I started building on that and reformatted the weekly newsletter so that it was easier to absorb information quickly. At the same time, I do not want to leave out the people who do not use computers, so I chose to run a one-page, weekly ad in the Fluvanna Review to help keep that group of people informed while also connecting with Fluvanna County residents and supporting a local business. Lake residents who do not have a computer can also contact my office for a personalized communications plan. 

What challenges do you face at work?

Our partially gated community is so large and diverse, I often feel like I am working for a municipality. Harmonious coexistence is fragile, and it takes strong leaders who practice patience, open-mindedness, courtesy, tact, courage, compassion, humility and common sense to hold a community together. Actions that are divisive are detrimental and don’t belong in any community. LMOA staff understands that. Tom Schauder, the general manager of LMOA, recognizes how important it is for our board and committee members, staff, residents, volunteers, business partners, and Fluvanna County leaders to work together to maintain a good quality of life. Over a year ago, he had us design the Team LMOA logo to help us focus on that necessity. His staff supports that vision and strives to create a sense of belonging. Having that in common makes LMOA a wonderful place to work. I have to say though, working for a not-for-profit is not easy. We can tirelessly dream up ideas that we cannot afford. So instead, we have to think outside of the box, be resourceful, stretch ourselves to find creative solutions, and above all, be realistic. 

Do you have an example of how staff thinks outside of the box? 

Our new mascot, Monti, is an example of effective yet inexpensive community building. Instead of hiring a marketing firm to rebrand an evolving community, I asked the residents of Fluvanna County to help me pick a character that we all can identify with and learn to love. A survey revealed that we wanted a lake monster. Then, over 60 artists submitted designs. Together, we choose our cute critter, Monti who is family-friendly, lovable, and fun. He was created by (then) 14-year-old Lake resident Keelin Donohue. In the future, I hope to see Monti on T-shirts and mugs. I envision a Monti float in our parades. Monti has the potential to bring people together inside and outside of the Lake, and I believe we will achieve that over time. Though serving this area through communications was not why I moved to Lake Monticello, it’s why I am happy to stay! 

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