Michelle W. Koufman.Bio pic.by Amy Bley.jpg

About MIchelle

Would you join a club called “Purple Class” for girls who liked the color purple or “StickersUSA” for kids who collected stickers (this was the 80’s, if you couldn’t already tell)?  Pretty niche groups, but those were two clubs that I formed when I was in elementary school, and believe it or not, they both got great traction. Since that time, I’ve always been drawn to trying to form a community within a larger community, not to exclude people, but to attempt to make myself and others feel as though we belong somewhere.  

I think that desire stemmed from my being plopped into Marietta, Georgia as a six year old from bustling and diverse New York City. Moving to Georgia, even at such a young age, I was acutely aware that things were different in the suburbs than they were in the city. For instance, if you took a look at the playground behind our high-rise apartment, it would have looked like a mini United Nations.  Not so much in suburban Georgia in 1981. It was a culture shock for me – people spoke differently, they lived differently, and they even went through their day differently. And, although I couldn’t conceptualize this as a young child, it sure shaped my constant need to find my place and my community.

I cannot remember which came first – the name “Ladies Who Learn” or the concept behind it, but after moving back to Atlanta as an adult and wanting to find my people, I threw myself into every book club I was invited to join.  At one point, I had four different books on my nightstand that I would rotate through for each book club. Sure, I loved to read, but it wasn’t really the “next bestselling book” that I was seeking – it was trying to find my community.

Despite having two graduate degrees, I still found myself contacting schools requesting application materials ranging from MBA coursework to graphic design.  I even thought about sitting for the CPA exam for no other reason than to just do it. I took sewing, drawing and mosaic classes all in the attempt to find my passion or the hobby that would fulfill me and end this quest I was on to continue to achieve and learn.  When would I finally feel that I had reached the saturation point. I wondered – when would it be enough?

Well, it turns out that I’m a life-long learner – it will never be enough, and that’s alright.  My hobby or passion IS learning! When I realized this and came to embrace it, a light bulb went off in my head.  I didn’t see myself as a “lady who lunches”, I wanted to be a “lady who learns”. And, this might be the most important aspect – I didn’t want to do it alone.  No, I wanted to form a group of women, similar to a book club, and we would learn to do something together. From all the classes I had taken, I took what I liked and didn’t like.  For instance, I loved the idea of being in a room with a diverse group of people who decided to leave their house that day and take time out of their busy lives to learn something. There was something really special knowing that ten other people had finished a day at work, or school or taking care of their families to spend a Tuesday night from 7-9 behind a sewing machine learning to make a pillow.  However, having spent many hours in a classroom, most of the classes felt almost sterile and there was no focus on forming any sort of camaraderie with the group and actually turning it into an experience. Perhaps we went around the room to introduce ourselves, but most of the time the interaction was only between each student and the instructor. I wanted my group to be about learning, but also be about having an enjoyable time and to foster a fun, interactive environment, so Ladies Who Learn was born.