By MICHELLE MUELLER
©The Recorder February 13, 2020
This is the story of two awesome women with strong ties to the Albion community. Both are what are called “servant leaders,” persons who focus primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
While the concept of servant leadership is timeless, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
Greenleaf’s essay continues: “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
Harry Bonner Sr., executive director of Albion’s Substance Abuse Prevention Services organization, may well be the epitome of a servant leader – but he has now created the Dr. Sheryl Mitchell Servant Leader Award, in the name of the former Albion City Manager he has worked so closely with for a number of years, to honor not just one local servant leader that he admires, but to annually give the award to a member of the community who has demonstrated their aspiration to serve while leading.
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.
At a celebration breakfast event held last Friday in Baldwin Hall on the Albion College campus, Mitchell was on hand to acknowledge her namesake award, and to present the first annual servant leadership award to Elizabeth Carey, President and CEO of Starr Commonwealth.
From the podium, Mitchell singled out Bonner from the audience of 60 or so present and addressed him directly: “My dear Mr. Bonner, I don’t have the words to adequately express how honored and moved I am that you have established the Dr. Sheryl Mitchell Servant Leadership Award. You have always asked me, ‘How would my legacy be remembered in the greater Albion Community?’ It is humbling to be commemorated in such a glorious fashion, through the recognition of the work of others who are demonstrating a transformative leadership style of using their Heart, Head, Hands, and Habits in their professional life to serve and help others.
“I came to the wonderful City of Albion, not knowing a single soul. But you and so many others, embraced both me and Louis and became our loving family and made this community our forever home. It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village of dedicated community leaders to transform a community. Mr. Bonner – you have been at the helm and a catalyst for transformative and positive change in both these arenas.
“Thank you for being my mentor, my faithful friend, and my eternal inspiration. You have selflessly given so much to support me on a personal and professional level and I am forever grateful. Thank you for bestowing me with such a tremendous legacy, by creating the Dr. Sheryl Mitchell Servant Leadership Award!”
When the time came in the program for the inaugural award to be bestowed upon Elizabeth Carey, the room was already filled with palpable warmth, laughter, and appreciation. Carey was introduced by Albion mainstay, Hazel Lias, and she glowed when she was given her award plaque. Several speakers sang her praises before and after Carey came to the podium from her table where she was surrounded by Starr staff and board members.
The most eloquent tribute to Elizabeth Carey during the program, however, came from Stanley E. Allen, a member of Starr’s board of trustees:
“For those of you who don’t know me, I was born in Detroit and currently live in Iowa, but I always say I am ‘from Albion.’ I am a proud Albion High School graduate class of 1974. ‘Once a Wildcat, ALWAYS a Wildcat!
“I moved to Albion – Starr Commonwealth to be exact – in 1969, and spent almost 5 years there until my graduation in 1974. While at Starr I had the good fortune to be one of a select group of students including Dr. John Seita, Craig Dolby, Mike Amundsen to name a few, who came into town daily to attend high school. I played football and was on the track team. Check out the sign in the gym next time you’re there and you’ll still see my name as the record holder for the shotput, set at the state track meet in 1974, where I threw 58 ft. 7 ¾ inches, a record I am proud to say has never been beaten.
“I met my chosen mom Hazel Lias and several others of you in this room during that time.
“I remember the attitude of so many then about Starr kids – we were crooks, delinquents, incorrigibles – you get the drift. In fact, a guy in high school asked me on one of my first days ‘are you one of those convicts from Starr?’ Believe it or not we became best friends and remained so all of our lives until his passing over 8 years ago. So many others were never that accepting. After graduation I left ‘on the first thing smoking,’ joined the Navy, eventually moved to California and never thought about returning.
“Fast forward to 2003 when I first came back for a Starr Commonwealth Founders Day to hear Maya Angelou speak, and was hooked. I ‘joined up’ so to speak, and am now co-chairman of the Board of Trustees and President of the Starr Alumni Association. In fact, I’m back here so often, people asked if I’ve moved back to Albion to stay!
“The last couple of years I have marched, along with numerous other Starr ‘kids’ in the annual Festival of the Forks parade. Never, in all of my imagination, would I have anticipated being able to walk the streets of Albion with other Starr students chanting ‘we are the Wildcats, mighty, mighty wildcats’ and have it be a positive experience where spectators joined in and cheered along with us. I would never have imagined a booth on Superior Street during the Festival, highlighting Starr and it’s almost 107-year history that people actually stopped at, were engaged in and became enthusiastic about.
“I credit those ‘never would have believed it’ experiences to the woman we are honoring today, Elizabeth Carey. She joined Starr in 2010 as a Chief Strategy Officer and in the last 10 years, oh the places we’ve gone. Five short years ago she became our Chief Executive Officer. She is a tireless advocate for children as a whole regardless of where they reside. She has re-shaped the future of Starr, modernizing our approach and our outreach to kids in need.
“Starr recognizes many of our challenges as a society stem from Trauma. This can be a result of violence at home, in our neighborhoods and unfortunately in our schools. It is a result of addictions, poverty, bullying, losing a parent at an early age through death or divorce or any number of things. Trauma affects learning and relationships all of our lives. Elizabeth aims to heal.
“Under her direction, Starr is partnering with higher education, health care providers, as well as hospitals [in this area] to expand services and pilot integrated health services to service the whole child and improve well-being. We have created Courageous Classrooms which provides teachers and schools with tools to incorporate social, emotional and behavioral learning tools into their curriculum. There are online courses, in person training, certifications and conferences assisting professionals reaching around the globe. We reach over 1.5 million people globally with our array of services.
“In closing, I leave you with these words: At its heart, Starr Commonwealth is Floyd Starr and 40 acres in Albion, Michigan, back in 1913. In 2010, at its heart is Elizabeth Carey, who I am proud to call a friend and colleague, and who we honor today for her tireless efforts on behalf of us all.”
“At its heart, Starr Commonwealth is Floyd Starr and 40 acres in Albion, Michigan, back in 1913. In 2010, at its heart is Elizabeth Carey, who I am proud to call a friend and colleague, and who we honor today for her tireless efforts on behalf of us all.”
Michelle is the author of the book Mr. Bonner, that was released in 2019. She has written for The Recorder, the Albion College Io Triumphe magazine, and she is an enthusiastic scrapbooker in her spare time. See more articles by Michelle Mueller here: www.albionmich.net/writer-mueller/
This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
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