Melanie Sadek has made two careers -- not to mention a world of difference in the Tri-Valley community -- out of her passion for helping some of the most vulnerable populations.
The 2016 recipient of the Tri-Valley Hero Community Spirit award, the Pleasanton resident is being recognized for her continued dedication to child and highway safety and to animals in need.
"This recognition doesn't feel like it's about me, but it's recognizing the things I've worked on that are super important to me, and that means a lot because it means there's something greater than just what you feel -- there's support behind it," Sadek said at the Tri-Valley Heroes award ceremony last month.
Sadek's devotion to child passenger and highway safety causes blossomed out of a retail job she took at a children's store in college. While selling car seats to parents, she quickly recognized that many did not fully understand how they worked.
"There were these really important details nobody knew, so I started to do a ton of research on my own," Sadek said.
That research soon spawned a trip to Nevada, where Sadek spent a week alongside first responders becoming a certified child passenger safety technician instructor. That certification enabled Sadek to start formally training nurses, firefighters and police officers in keeping children safe on the road, something she still does today.
Facing the choice of becoming a nurse or going into highway safety work after college, Sadek chose the latter, joining the American Automobile Association (AAA) San Francisco office as a traffic safety assistant. There she began building rapport with law enforcement and learning the latest safety protocol for keeping people safe, whether they be in a car or riding a scooter.
By the time Sadek was done at AAA, she was a manager reviewing occupant protection legislation from all over the country.
"I got a chance to work in a lot of different areas -- it was such an incredibly rewarding job," Sadek said.
The birth of Sadek's first son prompted the search for a new job closer to home, leading her to a career helping animals. She and her husband, Mike, opened the pet store Murphy's Paw in downtown Pleasanton in 2007, eventually electing to sell the business in 2011.
Just before the pet store sold, Sadek was brought on to Valley Humane Society as the nonprofit's executive director where she has remained for nearly six years.
"I'm very dedicated to helping those who are the most at-risk -- children and animals are the most vulnerable," Sadek said.
But, Sadek added, Valley Humane isn't just about the pets -- it's about the people, too.
"I love the fact that Valley Humane can offer assistance in times where others can't," she said, referring to the time the nonprofit brought therapy dogs to Foothill High School after a student's death as an example.
While leading a nonprofit and raising three young boys is enough to keep anyone busy, Sadek still finds additional time to give back to the community.
Besides continuing to lead child passenger safety trainings for Tri-Valley first responders, Sadek has also taken on a newer cause for kids relating to polling places. She is currently working toward seeing state legislation introduced that would change current law from requiring all school campuses to be available as polling locations and limit it only to campuses that can maintain existing security protocol while voting occurs.
"I care about the community and want to make a difference," Sadek said. "One person can make a huge difference."
* Melanie Sadek lives in Pleasanton with her husband Mike and three young boys Jackson, Nicholas and Maxwell.
* She has been involved in highway safety work for 20 years.
* Sadek received her bachelor's degree in science from California State University, East Bay.
* She has an identical twin sister named Mandy who is also the executive director of a no-kill animal shelter (in northern Idaho).
* To adopt a pet or learn more about Valley Humane Society, visit valleyhumane.org.