‘Giving back, serving others:’ Businesswoman finds purpose in a pandemic

Nonprofit, Above & Beyond for Change, started as a response to year of COVID-19, social unrest

This last year has brought change, uncertainty and self-reflection for so many but for one Central Florida businesswoman it also meant a chance to make a difference.

ORLANDO, Fla. – This last year has brought change, uncertainty and self-reflection for so many but for one Central Florida businesswoman it also meant a chance to make a difference.

Michelle Sanchez-Vahamonde turned her feelings of helplessness into hope. Vahamonde started her own nonprofit called Above and Beyond for Change.

Her first projects have all centered around the students at Pinewood Elementary in Orlando.

News 6 was there as she completed a bike giveaway inspired by the annual Bike to School Day.

“Every kid should have a bike, every kid should have a bike,” Sanchez-Vahamonde said from the student drop off lane at the Title 1 school.

The idea came from Pinewood Elementary first grade teacher Nisha Phillip-Malahoo.

“Michelle is the backbone of all of this. I have a dream and Michelle makes that dream come to life,” Philip-Malahoo said. “This couldn’t be possible without Michelle.”

The two worked together, partnering with Bike/Walk Central Florida. Together they purchased new bikes and others were donated from the Orlando Police Department.

“To pull this off it was a community of volunteers,” Phillip-Malahoo said.

One hundred and one bikes were given away to students who completed an essay and expressed a need.

Sanchez-Vahamonde’s motivation to start a nonprofit followed a turbulent year defined by a pandemic and social unrest. She owns several businesses and said when the COVID-19 shutdown happened there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

“I realized, given what I was going through I could only imagine what others with less privilege, less resources and less support were going through.” Sanchez-Vahamonde said.

She took time to reflect and decided it was time to start her own nonprofit.

“Above and Beyond For Change is what came to mind. Giving back, serving others and being a part of the community, helping and supporting how I can,” she said.

As the sun began to set on a recent busy day for the nonprofit, Sanchez-Vahamonde, Phillip-Malahoo and about another dozen volunteers matched students with their bikes.

Patricia Cadesca was there with her son D.J. ,who looked on as his new BMX bike, black with lime green rims, was loaded into the trunk.

“He’s very excited,” Cadesca said. “He kept reminding me today, he said, ‘Mommy you gotta go pick up my bike.’”

Families also got a box of groceries as they pulled away.

“They need bikes, they need lots of things. All the children need lots of things,” Sanchez-vahamonde said as she watched the cars pull up near the overhang.

Above and Beyond For Change also provided Pinewood Elementary families with Thanksgiving meals, winter coats, socks and underwear during the holidays.

“She wants to stay hidden,” Phillip-Malahoo said, “I’m like ‘No, people need to know about the good work that you’re doing.’ She says, ‘No, it’s not about me it’s about the kids.’ She’s so humble yet so precious to me.”

Sanchez-Vahamonde said she plans to continue supporting Pinewood Elementary and expand into support for mental health services

“I feel like my whole life and all my work experience with my companies has been preparing for this work,” Sanchez-Vahamonde said. “Yes it was spontaneous in many ways but I feel fully prepared to take this on and make an impact on the community.”

Above And Beyond For Change is still looking for a few more bikes to satisfy all the requests. If you think you can help contact Sanchez-Vahamonde at: msanchez@aboveandbeyondforchange.org

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.