OWOSSO — An Owosso resident who helped homeless and other people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic was among the 50 people from across the U.S. who were chosen as “Mazda Heroes.”

Shelly Ochodnicky, the director of Homeless Angels in Owosso, was celebrated Saturday at the Suburban Mazda of Farmington Hills, where she was presented with a Mazda MX-5 Miata 100th Anniversary Special Edition.

“It’s quite an honor,” Ochodnicky, 50, also an Owosso Board of Education member, said Friday. “It’s definitely a humbling experience.”

She attended the celebration with her husband, Jeffery Ochodnicky, and some of their children and grandchildren — along with Jeffery’s brother and his wife, Dawn Ochodnicky, who nominated her sister-in-law for the honor.

“Every morning I get up, make coffee and watch ‘Good Morning America’ and I saw that Mazda was doing the (Mazda Heroes: Honoring the Human Spirit) contest,” Dawn Ochodnicky said. “The first person I thought of was Shelly, who does so much for the homeless. She goes above and beyond what most people would do. It amazes me.”

She made her first YouTube video, a one-minute description of her sister-in-laws efforts, particularly since the pandemic broke out last March. Mazda officials were impressed.

“Shelly is shining some positivity and daylight through a tough time, both during the pandemic and before,” Mazda of Farmington Hills General Manager Che Shaydak said. “She is making a difference when she doesn’t have to.”

During the pandemic, Ochodnicky through Homeless Angels did a lot of “porch drops,” distributing packages of personal items such as scarce toilet paper; diapers, formula and wipes; Christmas items and many other items.

After the Sanford dam broke in Midland County in May, leaving many areas flooded, the Owosso Homeless Angels partnered with the Homeless Angels in Lansing to haul a truckload of supplies to people in need, taking some to the American Legion emergency shelter and Swan Valley High School.

“Our community has blessed (Homeless Angels) with so many supplies that we were able to pull some from our warehouse together and make it all happen,” Ochodnicky said. “We were blessed by the community to do so.”

Ochodnicky, an Owosso native, 1989 Owosso High School graduate and current Caledonia Township resident, is a part-time massage therapist and aesthetician by trade, but for the past 14 years has been pouring a great deal of energy into performing volunteer work with the homeless.

She started out helping “couch surfers” at Owosso Lincoln High School turn their lives around, saying that’s when she first realized there was a homeless problem in Shiawassee County. Ochodnicky also volunteered with Walls of Warmth, a revolving homeless shelter operated by a group of area churches.

In 2018, after Walls of Warmth closed, Ochodnicky managed a winter warming center at the Owosso Salvation Army. She started volunteering for the Lansing-based Homeless Angels more than two years ago, and now directs the Owosso shelter that opened more than a year ago.

Among the Owosso Homeless Angels success stories are two sisters who stayed in the shelter long-term and are now both attending college. In addition, despite the pandemic the shelter helped at least six homeless people get into drug rehab.

Ochodnicky explains her calling to serve the homeless by pointing out how she grew up helping and taking care people in need.

When her mother struggled with mental health issues, for example, she virtually raised her younger siblings. A grandmother who worked as a nurse was another inspiration, she said.

Now, Mazda is honoring her work with a new Mazda Miata, white with red interior, valued at about $33,000. Mazda is also paying the taxes on the prize.

“It’s definitely a fancy little sports car,” Ochodnicky said. “It’s going to be fun. And it puts a ray of sunshine in some difficult times, that’s for sure.”

She expressed gratitude for the support of her husband, five children and grandchildren, two of whom attend Owosso schools.

“They support me in all I do, and I couldn’t do it without them,” Ochodnicky said.

The Mazda Heroes: Honoring The Human Spirit program (Mazda Heroes) was created by the car company in order to shine a light on individuals across the country who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to their communities in 2020.

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