NEWPORT NEWS, VA. – Michelle Lange feels like she does her best work one-on-one.
She is a professor at Christopher Newport University in Newport News but also maintains a small private practice as a licensed clinical therapist.
Two years ago, inspired by the stories emerging from the MeToo movement, she wanted to create a nonprofit that would make a difference in her area.
Lange, 37, knew she wouldn’t have a lot of resources, so she envisioned an outreach aimed at girls and women in need of aid — mostly specializing in small gestures of support but also helping with larger and more specific issues such as financial aid in custody battles.
She launched Pay It For Her last year, playing off the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward,” about a young man whose school project to foster acts of kindness unexpectedly bloomed into a national movement.
“It’s a format that allows me to utilize my talent for one-on-one individual attention,” Lange said. “In addition to psychology, I also teach some English lit, and you’d be surprised how much that comes into play. The themes from books can really help you understand where someone is coming from. It’s all about communication. Resolving these issues involves communication.”
In the film that inspired the name of Lange’s operation, a middle school student launches a humble initiative in which people do favors, often for strangers, and rather than paying it back, the recipient is instructed to pay the favor forward by helping three people and requesting they do the same. It was a concept that had moved her at different points in her life and she liked the idea of simple acts making significant differences.
She accepts donations to her small kindnesses fund and to her emergency fund. Her friend Gayle Dow, a colleague on the CNU faculty, became one of Lange’s early donors.
“It’s a great idea for an organization and I liked that it was focused on women,” Dow said. “Emotional support is incredibly important when you’re in need and it’s good to see someone doing something to encourage that solidarity. We’re in this together.”
Lange grew up in Chesterfield and came to the College of William & Mary for her undergraduate study in psychology and English. She attended the University of Hartford in Connecticut for her master’s and doctoral work, and eventually returned to Hampton Roads to teach at CNU.
A single mother, she keeps her therapy practice on a small scale and she operates Pay It For Her out of a home office with only one intern as support at this point.
She continues to learn lessons through her own work that she is able to pass on to those who come to her seeking assistance. Before Pay It For Her, she knew nothing about starting a nonprofit, but she got considerable help from Virginia Beach-based Volunteer Hampton Roads. Local web experts helped her design her payitforher.org website and promote the work through social media.
Meanwhile, her own expertise in mental health helps Lange to understand the role it can play in a person’s problems, both large and small. It makes her more acutely aware of issues that may need to be dealt with.
“Even though our primary focus is the idea of support and small kindnesses,” Lange said, “small ripples can grow to be pretty significant. We want to help people in many different ways and really make a difference in the community.”