Before and After

Saint John’s, a “Before and After” View: Michelle MacLellan

Ever wonder how Saint John’s went from 20 homeless women on the steps of St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1985 to a full residential program for over 250 women and children? For some of the answers, we asked Michelle MacLellan, executive assistant to our Interim CEO, Marc Cawdrey.

Michelle started a career at St. John’s in 2001 as a “temp” worker fresh out of an IT job that ended when she chose not to relocate to Irvine. She had a computer science degree but the job market was tight…and a temporary job at St. John’s turned into a full-time position as facility manager and executive assistant to the director.

The shelter, at that time, was only a 40-bed, 30-day program. Women and their children stayed at the shelter on the current Loaves and Fishes site from 3:30 p.m. until 8:30 a.m. There were no formal services for the women, no drug and alcohol requirements, and no childcare or educational support – and the cycle continued. Thirty days in, ninety days out, thirty days in…no success for most, and frustration for the many good people who were trying to help. Michelle had a grander vision, though, for what could be.

In 2004, with the help of several Sacramento County Board Supervisors, then City Council member Dave Jones, and Mayor Darrell Steinberg (then an Assemblyman), the program was moved to a much larger facility on Power Inn Road. It was then that things began to develop into the program we now know; the vision started to become real.

At the new site, Michelle helped then executive director, Mary Ellen Ferguson, expand the services to a 90-day, 100-bed residential campus with support classes and counseling for the women, robust children’s programs, a computer lab and a cause that was generating energetic volunteers, community interest and enthusiasm. St. John’s was becoming a new sensation for helping Sacramento’s homeless women and children.

At the end of 2004, Michelle left St. John’s to work for another nonprofit. After a 14-year stint as director of operations with the California Rural Water Association, Michelle’s heart called her back to the mission of Saint John’s. She followed the Facebook page of former Saint John’s CEO, Michele Steeb, and kept up with the amazing growth of the program. The vision for a comprehensive residential campus had become a reality, and Michelle MacLellan longed to be a part of it again.

She called Steeb and met with then COO Marc Cawdrey for a tour of the new facility – much bigger and different even than the Power Inn Campus. As she puts it, “my heart soared when I saw it” and she had to find a way to help. Steeb and Cawdrey realized that Michelle had many talents, skills and important history with the organization that would be of great value to the program; they hired her immediately and put her to work as the executive assistant to Cawdrey. Her work includes compliance, proposals, contracts, licensing, and even overseeing the IT and phone systems for the facility. As a woman who wears many hats – she is an integral and valued part of the success we now see.

Ultimately, Michelle says that she was in awe of what was being accomplished at Saint John’s, and credits the leadership and wonderful staff for their commitment, energy and determination to make a difference in the lives of these women and their children. Tears of joy enter her eyes as she explained no longer would she have to watch as a child left Saint John’s with a mother still addicted and homeless. No longer would she see the cycle go round and round with no hope in sight, and no longer would she feel as if she was not truly making a difference.

Now, independence is a reality for the clients, and her work – and that of the community of dedicated staff and volunteers – is truly ground-breaking. Not content with “what is,” Michelle’s hope for the future is that our model will be emulated nation-wide, that more job partnerships and training opportunities will be created, that there will be room for more women ready to take control of their lives, and maybe that Oprah will visit!

2001: 40 beds and 30 days
2019: 220 beds and up-to-18 months

Things have surely changed, and Michelle attests to it…the ultimate before and after view. She continues to give her all as a self-described “Rebel with a Cause,” and Saint John’s is lucky that our cause is hers!

By Ellen Gemma, Guest Blogger and Volunteer, Former Asst. Principal, Jesuit High School, Former Principal, St. John the Evangelist School

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