In celebration of Leadership Geauga’s 25th Anniversary Year, we thought you’d enjoy reading about a few of the many alumni whose Leadership Geauga experience is helping them make a positive difference in our community. This month, the Class of 2020 will be participating in Human Services Day, so we’ve chosen for our profile a public servant whose advocacy work, for those in need of food or shelter in Geauga County, exemplifies servant-style leadership. Meet Mike Farrell, an alumnus of the Class of 2015.

To see Mike Farrell in his ODOT attire, serving Chardon’s District 12 as a highway technician, you’d never suspect he lives a double life as an unorthodox crusader for Geauga County citizens in need – except for the fire in his eyes. He explains, “As a child, I experienced homelessness firsthand. This county needs an emergency shelter to assist those in need.”

That’s a tall order for a county whose homeless remain invisible to the majority of its citizens. Mike reports, “We are talking here about the working poor, their children, and the aging – people who have never asked for anything and don’t know who to ask.”

While working for his former employer, the County Engineer’s office, Mike heard about the Leadership Geauga program and its former director, Bob Faehnle. When his employer arranged for Mike to join the Class of 2015, he was determined to make the most of the opportunity. He reports, “Leadership was amazing. It changed my life…Dr. Bob recommended I read The Servant[1]. That, and what I learned from the DISC[2] program about how to work with other people, helped me understand you just need to treat others like you want to be treated.”

Mike is applying those lessons in every aspect of his life. He believes the County’s homeless problem is closely linked to a lack of affordable housing. He explains that the young people who want to stay here can’t afford to do so and the seniors who don’t want to leave the County have very limited housing options.

Although some progress is being made in that direction, the need keeps growing.  So with the support of others who share his view, Mike has taken a first step towards founding a homeless shelter in Chardon by financing a house on Washington Street through the Geauga Faith Rescue Mission. Mike founded this non-profit in 2014 as a private-sector-funded, faith-based “rescue mission” to proactively address the current needs of our County’s growing homeless community.

As a former trustee of Claridon Township, Mike also founded Claridon Community Helps to tackle the immediate needs of the working poor. As he explains it, “What we do here is grass roots stuff. Thanks in part to the connections I built through Leadership, I can do some undercover work to help find those people in our community who need help but would never ask for it. We do four meetings a year and a community dinner each month. One hundred percent of the donations go back to the community.

“I’ll give you an example. We have a Department of Aging, but they can’t go out and buy a hot water tank. Good people like these help vet things for us, including the contractors we use. Then we get around the bull and get things done.”

This same “can do” attitude is apparent in how Mike tackles his career. Since graduating from Leadership, he has worked for the Chester Township Road Department and more recently for ODOT. As he explains it, “Leadership helped me understand how sometimes you need a person whose personality type is not the same as yours – someone who approaches things differently. But you need that person’s help, so you have to learn how to work things through.”

No matter where he happens to be, Mike is continually making connections to solve community problems, whether explaining to citizens why their beloved trees need to be removed or gathering families together to help straighten out the headstones in a community cemetery. He concludes, “I am trying to live the Leadership program every day. My heart is here in Geauga County, and I will always try my darndest to work with businesses, the government, and whoever else has that same deep love of Geauga County, to make a difference for the people here.”

[1] The Servant: Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership by James Hunter’s

[2] A behavior assessment tool used in leadership training