Howes Thrives As Coach Mentor

    GRAND HAVEN — The corporate world just wasn’t cutting it for Carolyn Howes.

    So after leaving her job as manager of an insurance office and taking two years off following the birth of her first child, Howes opted for a different direction.

    She found it with an organization in Lansing that helped train persons with disabilities for new employment. The position with the former Michigan Association of Rehab Facilities gave Howes the opportunity to put to work her administrative and business skills in a field that for her was personally and professionally rewarding and had a “higher purpose.”

    “I loved it. I really liked the role of playing coach and mentor. I don’t know why, but it just seems to push my buttons,” said Howes, whose switch more than 25 years ago led her to a career in nonprofit administration.

    Her latest stop is with the Grand Haven-based Junior Achievement of West Michigan Lake Shore Inc., which works with more than 15,000 students at 95 schools in a service area stretching from Saugatuck to Fremont, teaching them about the business world and potential career choices.

    Junior Achievement is the right fit for Howes, who previously served seven years as executive director of Hospice of North Ottawa, a position she left about two years ago.

    “I’m becoming a great believer in fate. You find the right thing when it seems to be the right thing,” she said. “This is the right match.”

    Finding the right match began after she graduated from college in 1970 with a degree in English from Oakland University. The native of Athens, located near Battle Creek, “didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do” after college, she said. She ended up at an insurance company in Marshall, where she became unit manager and eventually supervised a staff of 50.

    While the work was good, and she enjoyed certain aspects of the job such as customer service and community relations, the position had its drawbacks. Howes had come to feel that she had advanced as far as she could go and cared little for the authoritarian and hierarchal management structure. After seven years, she left the company.

    “It just felt like there was something missing. I wanted to do something with a higher purpose, something different,” said Howes, who first took two years off following the birth of her son.

    When she re-entered the workforce, Howes found what she was looking for at the Michigan Association of Rehab Facilities. She became director of the program in her second year there before leaving to become assistant to the president at the former Leila Hospital in Battle Creek. She later joined the Substance Abuse Council of Battle Creek as executive director, serving from 1989 to 1990, and then went to Good Samaritan Hospice Care for two years.

    She came to Grand Haven in 1993 to run Hospice of North Ottawa Community. Howes left there about two years ago and began searching for new work.

    A newspaper ad led her to Junior Achievement of West Michigan Lake Shore Inc. Part of the allure of the job was her past experiences. Howes served as a Junior Achievement volunteer and adviser to high school students while working for the insurance business in Marshall. Part of the reason for that work was her memory of her own uncertainty of career choices post-college.

    At Junior Achievement, she could help teen-agers avoid the same situation and provide them direction.

    “I identify so much with helping kids and at least giving them some help with the search,” Howes said. “We teach kids the practical side of business and what opportunities are out there.”

    The Junior Achievement chapter is presently experiencing some financial difficulty brought on the recession. Layoffs in the area have also cut into the organization’s base of about 600 volunteers from 400 companies in the region.

    Going forward, Howes wants the Junior Achievement chapter to shore up its support in the communities it serves and connect with more students to “show them the possibilities for the future are endless.”

    “We’ve only just begun,” she said. “There is a wonderful future for this organization.”            BJ

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