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From orphan in Thailand to life coach in America, Rochester's Boonmee McElroy writes her story

Life is too short not to leave a record, she said.

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Boonmee McElroy
Contributed / Boonmee McElroy
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ROCHESTER — Boonmee Pakviset McElroy, a Rochester-based life coach , inspirational speaker and social worker, hates potatoes the way some people hate needles, extreme heights, or hearing loved ones shout at them.

McElroy grew up in Thailand, where she was orphaned at a young age and survived poverty and abuse. Along the way, she ate plenty of potatoes.

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She explains how she made it through all the hardships in an upcoming book – part life story, part self-help text. At 2 p.m. Saturday, “I Hate Potatoes: They Make Me Cry,” debuts at the Rochester Art Center . McElroy will discuss her book, her motivations for writing and coaching. Copies of her book will be available for sale.

There is a suggested donation of $10 per attendee, which will benefit The Landing and the art center.

We caught up with McElroy about writing for her young children, her favorite causes, and that title.

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So what’s “I Hate Potatoes: They Make Me Cry” all about?

My book is to remind us that hope, love and kindness are around us. I find that in the past decade, we have lost touch with our own inner wisdom. And it would like to remind us all that we can still be kind to one another, especially during this pandemic. I think we need to get back to being who we are, which is a people with wisdom and kindness.

How did you come up with the title?

(Laughter.) I’m glad you asked about that. Actually, you have to read the book. The title of the book is very straightforward. Personally, I don't eat potatoes, but I would love my audience to find out why. It’s in chapter one, I believe. I personally have struggled a lot with being homeless and poverty. I had to eat a lot of potatoes in my in my childhood. And that’s the reason why I don't eat potatoes.

You moved to the U.S. in 2009. Have you been in Rochester ever since?

Yeah, I landed directly in Rochester, Minnesota.

Were you already a life coach at that point?

I actually was an international life coach and inspirational speaker before I moved to the United States. What I love to do is to inspire people through sharing my life journey.

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Why did you choose to write your book at this time?

Since I arrived to the United States, to Rochester specifically, I felt as though I had to restart my life all over again because my experience and expertise as a life coach at the time was not recognized. And I felt forced to go back to school, which I don't mind it because it's one of my long-term dreams of having a higher education degree. I went back and earned my bachelor's degree in psychology and master's in social work. And I have been a mental health counselor in the past seven years. More and more, though, I think what people need the most is to be inspired about life again.

And the pandemic was another turning point — we were forced to stay at home and have a lot of time on our hands, so it kind of forced us to go inward. Including myself — I'm a mom of a 2-year-old and 3-year-old myself. It's just like, “Oh my God, there is so much going on.”

I lost so many people in my family in the past year. And I just felt like life is too short. We are again reminded how precious life is.

I decided to write a book about my life journey because my boys are so young and life is so unpredictable. I want the boys to know who their mom was, you know, and I just want to have a book so that they can read when they grow up enough to understand.

That was my sole purpose, to share my life journey in hope to inspire us all. That life is precious, and we need to start counting blessings, not the misfortunes.

What stood out to you, when you were cataloging your own life story for print?

I think to my surprise, I came face-to-face with my own insecurity and my own fear of writing, because I taught myself how to speak English. Let alone write a book? … And the publisher (You Speak It) surprised me (in) that they loved the title. They told me that my book was the first book that they had ever published without a subtitle. It could be something like, “I Hate Potatoes: They Make Me Cry — the Journey of a Woman Who Moved from Poverty to International Success.” I don't have subtitle to my book, because I believe that this title in itself is gonna trigger a lot of curiosity.

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Moving back to your career as a life coach and a motivational speaker, have you noticed in the past couple of years any changes in what people are looking for from you?

I think the trend is move from the polished look, the people who look as though they have it all, they’re entirely put-together. I think now, more and more, we need to have somebody who represents normal people, who go about life as a wife and mom, who doesn't have to look polished and sound polished. We can make a difference. We have a value. I think that has been the trend that we don't need to be somebody first in order to make a difference in this life.

Speaking of helping people, this book launch is also a fundraiser for The Landing and for the Rochester Art Center. Do you have connections to either of those organizations?

Personally, I did not have any connection. But my intention (goes) beyond just having my boys learn about my journey. I want to do whatever’s in my power that I can to help society. I chose the homelessness and poverty because I lived through those experiences myself and know what it's like to have no shelter. I know what it's like to have no food. And now I'm in the place that I can make a difference.

Is there anything you wanted to add anything I haven't touched on that you want to talk about?

I would like us to really remember who we are. At the core we are the same, we are all equal. Love can make a difference in the world, and that is the message above all. I want to bring back kindness with one another and treat each other well.

If you go

What: Book launch and fundraiser with Boonmee McElroy

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22

Where: Rochester Art Center, 30 Civic Center Drive

Cost: $10 suggested donation

Email: ahalliwell@rochestermagazine.com
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