Employee Spotlight: Heather Parker

In celebration of National Volunteers Week, we are shining the light on the Executive Directory of Tyler’s Hope, a non-profit founded by Rick Staab, the founder of InterMed. Through her lifelong passion for helping others, Heather Parker paints her perspective on volunteering and running a successful non-profit.

Where are you from?

I grew up in South Florida. I moved up here to Gainesville to attend UF which is where I met my husband. After college, we talked about it and, because we were both so happy here, we decided to stay and put down roots.

How long have you been with Tyler’s Hope?

I officially started working for Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure in 2019 but was involved on the volunteering side for roughly 10 years before that. My son became fast friends with the youngest son of the Staab family, who were the founders of Tyler’s Hope. It was through their friendship that my husband and I met and became great friends with the rest of the family. We learned about their history and the organization and fell in love with the cause. We immediately started volunteering and supporting them in any way we could.

What is your title and responsibilities?

I am the Executive Director for Tyler's Hope for a Dystonia Cure. I am the only employee for Tyler's Hope, so I wear many hats within the organization. I oversee everything that comes with Tyler's Hope, from event planning to logistics to marketing and more.

Please give a brief description of what Tyler’s Hope is.

Tyler's Hope is an organization that was established to fund research and create awareness for DYT1 dystonia, a movement disorder. It's characterized by painful twisting contractions that are uncontrollable. Dystonia can affect multiple parts of the body or a single part of the body depending on the type of dystonia a person has. There are a bunch of different kinds of dystonia, but we primarily focus on DYT1. This type mainly presents itself in adolescence and is what two of the three Staab children have been diagnosed with.

What is the connection between Tyler’s Hope and InterMed? How has this partnership helped Tyler’s Hope’s mission?

Tyler's Hope was established in 2005 by Rick Staab. He is the founder and former CEO of InterMed, so Tyler's Hope has always been closely intertwined with the company. The InterMed employees are big supporters of Tyler's Hope. They're very involved with sponsoring, fundraising, and volunteering. They have become part of the Tyler's Hope family. They are one of the reasons I can be a one-person show. I have all these amazing silent people behind me who are helping to support our mission.

What drew you to being executive director of Tyler’s Hope/a non-profit, in general?

I do a lot of research about an organization before I decide to volunteer or support it because I want to know what they are all about. I want to make sure that they're good stewards of my money and time and Tyler's Hope has always fit all the criteria. Tyler’s Hope ensures that over 96% of every dollar that comes in goes toward research, which is almost unheard of because it's so incredibly difficult to do. In 2019, I left my job, and my husband and I were having dinner with the Staabs where I mentioned I was changing careers but didn’t know exactly what I was going to do next. That night the Staabs mentioned they were looking for a new Executive Director and asked if I would be interested. I met with Rick Staab the next day about the position and the rest is history.

Have you always enjoyed volunteering and non-profit work? Have you headed something similar in the past?

I've always been passionate about volunteering and being a part of something bigger than me. It makes my heart happy.  I've volunteered throughout my life for various organizations and even helped to establish a couple from the ground up. I was a schoolteacher for 15 years, so when I was teaching, I helped to start - a book donation program and a free homework tutoring program with some of the teachers I worked with.

Do you participate in any volunteer work outside of Tyler’s Hope? If so, where?

Those of us in charge of running non-profits in the area, are in a circle and get together from time to time. So, anytime one of us in the group needs something, like volunteers, we’re all there to help.

Do you have volunteers that work with your organization regularly?

We have a bunch of different types of volunteers within Tyler’s Hope. We have volunteers who come in once in a blue moon whenever they have time, volunteers who come in regularly, and event-specific volunteers. I always say, that when people get involved with Tyler's Hope, they fall in love and want to continue participating with the organization. So, they want to stay involved, whether it's regularly or whenever they have availability.

Why do you believe volunteering and working with non-profits or similar organizations is important?

My husband and I have instilled in our children that giving back is so important. I believe it teaches empathy and helps people understand they are not the center of the universe. No matter how badly you are struggling, there is always someone who has it a little bit harder. It 100% fills your cup to support others, and it doesn't have to be money or an act of service. Helping can be whatever you want. I mean, even if it's sharing or commenting on a post, or following an organization’s account on social media, all those small things help a lot.

Do you do anything for National Volunteers Week?

We highlight volunteers throughout the week for National Volunteer Week but feel it's very important to make sure that people feel recognized and appreciated throughout the entire year. For each event, I write a handwritten letter to everyone involved because I want them to know how grateful we are for them. So yes, we do those things during National Volunteer Week, but every day is like National Volunteer Day for us because we can't do this without them.