In our Staff Spotlight series, we catch up with the talented, dedicated, and compassionate individuals who help make everything our organization does possible. This month we are so happy to recognize and celebrate Mary Jo Michalik’s long career with CH/LSS. Mary Jo joined CH/LSS in 1999 and was with our organization until her recent retirement in the fall of 2021. Her decades-long career with CH/LSS made a tremendous impact on the clients she served and the colleagues she worked with. Let’s take a look back at her career highlights and see what she’s been up to in early retirement.
Congratulations on your retirement Mary Jo! We miss you at CH/LSS, but hope you are enjoying your next adventure! How have you been enjoying spending your days lately?
Since retiring last fall I’ve switched gears to care for my two-year-old granddaughter, Eleanor, three days per week. I’ve been spending lots of time learning about Montessori toddlers as well as catching up on podcasts, audiobooks, movies, and TV shows while working on jigsaw puzzles. Of course, I still need to get a walk in every day! I joined a fitness club and plan to begin working out again as soon as Eleanor can be vaccinated. I’m hoping to travel when life opens up again, but I don’t have any big trips on the calendar yet. I dream of returning to Italy! I love cooking and eating healthy foods. My cousin gave me the Milk Street Vegetables cookbook and I’ve been having a blast trying out new recipes and sharing them with friends and neighbors. I’m really looking forward to the farmer’s markets opening again!
Tell us about your long career with CH/LSS? When did you first join the organization and what roles did you have while with the organization?
I was recruited by a friend to join the finance team at Children’s Home Society in November of 1999. I worked my way through the University of Minnesota where I majored in Child Psychology while working in the accounting department at what is now Wells Fargo Mortgage. Some close friends had recently adopted a sibling group through Children’s Home Society. I felt connected to the mission, so it wasn’t difficult to make the decision to make the change to work for an organization that aligned closely with my interests and values. I have never regretted that decision for a minute!
When there was an opening in the Foster Care Adoption program to track and bill the DHS State of Minnesota contract and supervise the Program Specialist position it was a perfect fit! Through the years my role changed to meet the needs of the program. For several years I conducted the monthly Foster Care Orientation meetings, which provided a detailed overview of what clients could expect if choosing to go through the foster care adoption program. Our tag line was, and still remains, “we are looking for families for children; not children for families”.
What was the most rewarding part of your work with CH/LSS over the years?
I loved working with relatives to help them navigate through what can be an overwhelming process. Whenever children are adopted by loving family members it’s a win-win! When I first started in this program there were only about a dozen or so relatives referred to us by counties each year. Due to a commitment from CH/LSS leadership and eventual changes to the State contract we currently work with over a hundred relatives every year.
I have been forever changed by the colleagues I worked with over the years and feel nothing but gratitude that our paths crossed.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time with CH/LSS?
Every December, Pilots for Kids, a program from Delta Airlines, hosts an event called Fantasy Flight to The North Pole, exclusively for the amazing families in the foster care adoption program at CH/LSS. I had the privilege of coordinating this event from 2005 until 2020. Every year, families began reaching out to me as early as October to ensure they were on the “flight list” for the North Pole. For many, this has become an annual holiday tradition. It’s always a joy to reconnect with families and welcome new families to join the party. It’s wonderful to see how strongly attached families grow over time. It is an encouraging reminder of how the right family matched with the right kid really can completely change the trajectory of a child’s life!
What was special about your colleagues at CH/LSS? What do you miss the most?
I don’t even know where to begin when speaking about my colleagues! They are simply the best in the business and I have learned so much from them. The work we do really does make a difference, and being part of a team led by such strong leaders with a standard of excellence has truly been an honor. I do miss the days when we were a smaller team and worked in the office every day. We got to know each other well and processed the highs and lows of the work as a team. I have been forever changed by the colleagues I worked with over the years and feel nothing but gratitude that our paths crossed.
Even though this program has grown exponentially and Covid forced us to work remotely, the supervisors have worked hard to do innovative things to keep the team connected and ensure that everyone is fully trained and supported. I’m sad that I was never able to return to the office and I really do miss many of my co-workers, but I know that it was the right time to “pass the torch” into very capable hands. I have no worries that CH/LSS will continue to provide the high-caliber services that they are known for.
What is something you would share with someone thinking about applying to work with CH/LSS?
I would say “Go for it!” Nonprofit work isn’t for everyone, but if you are someone who values meaningful work and authentic co-workers, CH/LSS is a great organization to consider.
What are you looking forward to most in the next chapter of your life?
Most of all I am looking forward to watching my granddaughter grow up and having an opportunity to be part of her childhood. I’m also looking forward to spending more time with friends while continuing to learn and grow.
What always brings a smile to your face?
Eleanor! That kid cracks me up every single day. Watching her figure out how to master new tasks never grows old. All the cliches about grandparenting are true!