No matter the circumstances, it’s hard to keep Mellie Kaufman down.
She was born and brought up in the Emerald City. Mellie and her four half siblings were raised by their mother. The family struggled with poverty throughout Mellie’s childhood and, as Mellie explains, she had a strained relationship with her mother. She says her mother’s abusive parenting caused her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which she continues to battle today.
Despite struggles with her unsupportive mother at home, Mellie has always been a go-getter who isn’t afraid to chase after her passions. As a student at Shorecrest High School, she discovered a love for cooking. Mellie even decided to devote classroom time to learning more about the business side of the culinary arts. “I took catering and restaurant management and received my food handler’s permit.” With it, she was ready for her first job at McDonald’s.
After high school, Mellie pursued more education by taking college courses when she could. Her academic strong suit is math, and she has taken classes in both calculus and physics.
In addition to her enthusiasm for education and the restaurant industry, Mellie has also been an artist since childhood. She finds her inspiration in nature and especially enjoys drawing mountain scenes and lighthouses. Her dream is to combine her interests to start her own business. “Someday, I want to open my own restaurant with my homemade cooking and to have my own art gallery to display my artwork.”
With a contagious zest for life, her most refreshing trait is her courage to march on. At 35, she has had to pick herself up and rebuild her life several times. At 19, she decided to leave home. This decision meant having to support herself while living on the streets or staying with friends. Around the same time, Mellie met the man who would become her husband and later gave birth to their daughter in 2000. Mellie speaks candidly about how the couple made the decision to give their daughter up for adoption. “We decided that for her well-being, it would be better for her to be adopted than living on the streets.” She says that her daughter was adopted by a loving family, which makes her happy.
After getting married in 2003, Mellie and her husband felt exhausted by the stresses of homelessness. The two decided to do some traveling. They used the time as an opportunity “to get away from everything and to be alone.” After returning from their travels, Mellie got her first apartment in 2004 and spent the next few years focusing on her art and seeking treatment for PTSD
While Mellie is eager to share the story of her past, she is also delighted with her present life as a Real Change vendor. “Greeting people as they are heading to work touches my heart,” says Mellie. She sells outside of Seattle City Hall on the corner of Fifth and Cherry.
Selling the paper also brings Mellie solace and healing. Mellie explains that because of her PTSD, “I’ve been isolated from the world for so long, for 26 years, because I had been hurt by people and didn’t trust anyone.”
Now Mellie uses her sense of humor, enthusiasm and bright smile to connect with customers. “At my selling location, I am known as the Happy Lady. It’s not about the money, although it is a necessity to survive. It’s about being around the people and to engage in a positive atmosphere.”