Helene Streich has been a member of the Flint community for 50 years, living, working, raising her children, and giving back. This month, she will be honored by the Foundation of Mott Community College’s Women in Education program on April 9 for the inspiration she has provided to women who are trying to better themselves and make their way in the world. “The purpose of this event,” said Teresa McClelland-Sargent, volunteer mentor in the program, “is to make the community aware of the wonderful work that we’re doing through Women in Education, and to honor a woman who has given her time and effort and resources for the betterment of our community. She is a great role model for the women whom we mentor through our program.” The luncehon to honor Helene will also raise funds so the Women in Education program can continue to help women realize their potential.
Helene remembers growing up in less-than-advantageous circumstances in Flint. “My parents were so humble that when the time came for me to be born in 1930, my mother went back to her family home in Brockport, NY to give birth to me,” she recalled during an interview with My City Magazine. Growing up, Helene says she wanted to become a nurse or a teacher. “When I was little,” she said of the 1940s, “there were no female doctors or lawyers.” Still, Helene wanted a career, so she attended Stephens College in Columbia, MO for two years and transferred to the University of Missouri to finish a degree in education. In 1951, she became a teacher for Flint Community Schools, and didn’t stop working until she had earned a Master’s in early childhood development in 1953. “I continued to work even after I got married in 1955 and had three little boys,” she recalled, “because I felt it was my way of contributing to the community’s welfare.” As time passed and opportunities arose, Helene began serving on various boards and committees in order to continue her efforts to better the community. Even now, at the age of 84, Helene sits on the boards of Foundation of Mott Community College, the Salvation Army and the Ballenger Lecture Series. “I feel you should support your passions with your time and talent, and whatever means you can,” she said. Of the honor she is receiving from the Women in Education program, she said humbly, “I just want to encourage women to make the changes they need to make with courage. Don’t let anything – circumstances, your past, or even your age – stop you.”
Women in Education is a program formed in 1999 to address the unique challenges that many women face in their education and professional lives. The primary component is mentorship. “So many women in our community need personal support as they attend college,” said Teresa, who is passionate about empowering the women who come through the program. “Self-esteem is our main focus, and it is fantastic to watch the women blossom and bloom as they realize their potential.” In order to build up their students, many of whom are trying to overcome setbacks related to their status as single mothers, divorcees or returning students, the WIE program also includes enrichment series on topics chosen by the women themselves.
Additionally, the WIE Committee selects four women from nearly 50 applicants each year to receive a stipend. This money is used to cover any emergency non-academic costs that might act as a barrier to finishing their degrees or reaching their goals. And while the money is certainly important, the fellowship offers so much more than financial aid. “Each of our recipients is required to take part in the activities offered by the program,” said Teresa, “and we become like a sisterhood over the course of the academic year. We all pitch in to help one another. It’s beautiful.”
PHOTO BY MICHAEL GLEASON