Honoring Michelle Howell: 40 Years of Service at Marillac St. Vincent
Connecting Communities | March 2022
We honor Michelle Howell, who recently retired from Marillac St. Vincent after nearly 40 years of service to the organization at the Marillac Social Center campus. She started her career as an assistant teacher for two-year-olds and concluded her time leading the same department as a Director and Program Manager of Early Childhood Development. She was and is an exemplary hard worker, team-player, peacemaker, strong listener, and advocate. Michelle’s leadership has paved the way for the next generation of early childhood teachers.
We spoke with Michelle for a virtual Q&A as she settles into the first few months of her well-deserved retirement.
How did you first get involved with Marillac St. Vincent? What attracted you to the organization?
My first encounter with Marillac St. Vincent was when I was a junior in high school, and I went with my girlfriend to pick up her little brother from day care. I was curious about the organization from the start and the more I came with her, the more impressed I became about the organization. As a young girl when I thought about my future work, I believed I was going to follow my mother’s footsteps by working in a telephone operator position. As my connection with MSV grew, I understood the opportunities available to impact a child’s life at a young age. So, when I went to college, I took a few education courses and ended up getting a degree with an emphasis on early childhood development.
I had the intention of working at Marillac St. Vincent and met with Sister Julie for an interview. One of the questions I remember her asking is, “what is your goal here with the organization?” I told her, “I want an opportunity where I can do work where I offer my best self to all people I encounter.”
Tell us about your role at the Marillac St. Vincent?
I started as an assistant teacher in the Early Childhood Department and finished my career as a Program Director for this same department.
I started working with two-year-olds and had a wonderful lead teacher as a mentor. She led by example and taught me so many things that helped inform my teaching style. Items such as - how a classroom should run, how to interact with children and keep them engaged, and the importance of being flexible.
Being an assistant teacher allowed me a chance to develop leadership abilities, compassion, and commitment - I rarely ever called in sick! Marillac St. Vincent was such a great place to be, I could see my direct impact on these young kids and I didn’t want to miss a single day. Always a team player, I volunteered across the different programs at MSV, which meant I often had to stay after work to finish the job. I was very serious about my career because I believed in the importance of a positive impression for these young children – through the good and bad days.
As the years progressed, I went from assistant teacher to leading my own classroom with an assistant of my own, sharing my knowledge with a teacher of the future. After a while, I became a supervisor of the Pre-K section (3 to 5-year-olds). As a supervisor, I had the chance to interact and influence my peers. I was often called the “peacemaker” because of the environment of trust I fostered, where everyone’s voice mattered. I always tried to lead by example.
The culmination of my time at MSV was as a Director and Program Manager of Early Childhood Education. It gave me a chance to connect with even more members of the MSV community and influence the programs run by our teachers. I am going to miss all the relationships I built over the years among the MSV family.
Congrats on 40 years with the organization! That is quite an accomplishment. What are some highlights of your time with Marillac St. Vincent?
There are so many highlights over my tenure, but I do remember a few that stand out.
I remember that one of my kindergarteners who went to Providence St. Mel scored the highest test score they ever had to enter their elementary program. I was so delighted that he came through our program, and we had helped kickstart his educational journey. It was further proof of the importance of our work in early childhood education.
As I aged throughout the role, it has been exciting to see children I taught bringing their children into the classroom. It reminded me of all that we have accomplished and that it was time for me to pass the torch off to the next generation of teachers.
Another highlight was meeting the Illinois governor with a group of children as they sang during the Christmas tree lighting one holiday season.
One of the things I always admired at MSV is the importance of advocacy. There were a few times where I went with a group of parents down to Springfield to advocate for early childhood education. There was one time where our MSV group was recognized and honored by Maria Whelan, one of the leaders at Illinois Action for Children who passed away recently. I was so proud to be a part of this important movement.
But overall, I will remember and cherish all the special people I met throughout my time at Marillac St. Vincent. I am an ordained minister, and at times I had to put that hat on when parents, and even staff would come into my office. I offered a safe and confidential environment to share personal items and help them find their voice. I would be there to help or direct them to someone who could. These sessions deepened my relationships with many members of our MSV family.
If you could share anything with someone thinking about working or volunteering with MSV, what would you say?
I would tell them it is a great place to be. You become part of a family within the walls of these buildings. You can find longevity at MSV with your career, it’s a place you can find growth, belonging and help when needed since MSV goes out of its way to guide you to your fullest potential. Marillac St. Vincent is serious about the work it does for the community it serves.
Are there any areas of growth that you see with the role you had or the organization as a whole?
It is amazing looking back to see how far we have come in terms of early childhood education in 40 years. When I started, teachers were considered a step up from babysitters. But the respect has significantly increased; new research shows that early childhood teachers are often the second most important person in a child’s life after their parents. I am grateful to have helped pave the way for young teachers and am excited to see how their role continues to develop for the betterment of young children.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a final story I heard recently from grandparents in our MSV community. These grandparents recently got custody of their young grandkids and were worried about their education and development. They spoke with their friend whose kids and grandkids went through the programs at MSV. She told them to get their grandkids to Marillac St. Vincent and they won’t have anything to worry about. “Your babies are going to learn, be loved, and taken care of.”
Interested to learn about Early Childhood Programs within the Marillac St. Vincent Community?
Learn more about ways to donate, volunteer or work at MSV.