Mikel was raised on a 400-acre family farm in rural South Carolina. His father left the family when Mikel was six. His mother, with only a high school diploma, went to work as a teacher’s aid and earned both a bachelors and master’s degree while working full time. She also put all four of her kids through college. Mikel inherited her grit, determination, work ethic and love of reading. She understood that education was the key for Mikel to leave the farm and achieve his dreams of travel.
Despite receiving a full scholarship to Washington & Lee, Mikel elected to attend Yale University (much to his southern grandmother’s dismay. . . . “A Yankee college!”). Mikel lost his southern drawl, met people from all over the world, graduated with a degree in English literature and then set off with his best friend to travel to 13 European countries on a Eurail pass.
Following in his mother’s footsteps, he gave teaching in South Carolina a brief try before volunteering with Educational Services Exchange in China in 1986 where he was promoted to be the co-director of the program after one year of teaching. Mikel then earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and became involved in several international development initiatives. Returning home, Mikel joined the Palmetto Project, a nonprofit in South Carolina working on race relations, immunizations for children, community service, and healthcare for the working poor. The first successful grant he wrote was South Carolina’s proposal to the Commission on National and Community Service, the precursor to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
Ironically, other than a brief stint with the South Carolina Department of Education and two rotations with the Peace Corps (in China and Bulgaria), Mikel has spent the bulk of his career at the CNCS. This federal agency was established in 1993 by President Clinton and serves as the umbrella organization for the country’s national service programs including AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund and the Volunteer Generation Fund. Through CNCS, over three million Americans participate in results-driven service projects each year at 50,000 locations across the country. Mikel has held various senior roles at CNCS. He served as Deputy Director for AmeriCorps programs administered by the states’ service commissions, Director of the National Civilian Community Corps, Director of CNCS’s 45 field offices, and Acting Director for Senior Corps. Among other initiatives, he developed the agency’s cross-program response to Hurricane Katrina. He has worked with state service commissions to understand how CNCS’s programs were being implemented in the field. He has hosted Senate and congressional delegations on site visits and educated them about the importance of numerous service programs. He has developed programmatic business plans that resulted in expanded funding.
Since the 2017 Presidential inauguration, Mikel has been serving as Chief of Staff of CNCS, streamlining programs to ensure the organization is a good steward of taxpayer dollars, focusing on local priorities including infrastructure (AmeriCorps members are rebuilding homes), facilitating the transition of veterans out of military service and redeveloping programs to help inner city youth.
Mikel’s husband John is a published author and culinary historian who loves spoiling him with homecooked delicacies. To work off those calories, Mikel takes exceptionally long walks and helps cultivate John’s garden. They both love to travel and learn from different cultures. Their next major travel adventure will take them to the Edinburgh International Festival where Mikel intends to soak up opera, music, theater, and dance by performers from all over the globe. There is no doubt that Mikel’s performance as a community service and global development leader will be award-winning.