Michelle Henton is busy, very busy, and that's just the way she likes it. Some of her favorite pastimes include spending time with family, going to see plays in Chicago and traveling, but what keeps her the busiest is her career. Michelle works as a Guidance Counselor at COMPSYCH, a company that provides EAP services to employees in over 45,000 companies. While her journey to success has had challenges and setbacks, her hard work and perseverance have gotten her through, and others have taken notice along her journey.
Michelle, who was born and raised on Chicago's West Side, had always aspired to be a cosmetologist. Says Michelle, "I remember my mother would send me to the beauty salon every other week and it was always great to watch the stylist transform their clients". In 2000, Michelle enrolled at Pivot Point Cosmetology School and became a Licensed Cosmetologist. Michelle felt as if she had found her perfect match. "I was never going back to school. In my mind I was going do hair forever".
In September 2000, Michelle was a passenger in a car driven by her friend. Their car struck another car and Michelle sustained an accident that left her a quadriplegic. Michelle and her family were devastated. Says Michelle, "I was just so unsure, I kept having visions of seeing myself not being able to do things, like I was a bum. It was so distracting. But I was constantly encouraged by my family, faith and friends. Without them I do not know where I would be".
Michelle learned about the Home Services Program (HSP) through the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation (DHS-DRS) before leaving the rehabilitation hospital. The HSP program allowed Michelle to immediately begin receiving assistance related to activities of daily living that she wasn't able to perform herself. Says Michelle, "The HSP Services were a blessing because my mother had to work. The ability to have that much hands-on care in the beginning stages of my injury allowed me to learn about my new body. I was able to learn my new strengths and areas I would need to improve to increase my quality of life "on wheels". I always felt confident because I was hardly ever alone in the beginning".
As Michelle's confidence increased she decided that she would like to pursue a college degree. Michelle was connected to DRS Counselor Pam Geddes, who Michelle says helped her with everything. "Pam, connected me up with all kinds of services, such as a wheelchair, tuition, books and counseling. She was very welcoming and supportive, and she understood my struggles about my disability. Pam embraced me"!
With Pam's assistance Michelle went on to graduate with an Associates of Science in 2008 from Malcom X Community College, worked for a little while in customer service and then started back for her Bachelor's Degree at Roosevelt University in 2013. After taking a few psychology classes Michelle became intrigued with human behavior. She also saw similarities with her past skills as a cosmetologist. "As a stylist, I listened to my clients, gave them advice, and made them beautiful on the outside. As a therapist, I could empathetically listen to my clients, offer tools and interventions, and make them feel better on the inside".
Michelle graduated from Roosevelt University with a Bachelors in 2016 and immediately pursued her Master's in Clinical Psychology. She completed her Master's Degree in May of 2018. All three of her degrees shared one consistent theme; all were completed with high honors.
At the completion of her Master's Degree Michelle was notified by the Dean of Roosevelt University that her hard work had been noticed by her peers and she had been nominated to give the commencement speech at her graduation. Says Michelle, "I was in shock, my mom was dumbfounded. As busy as I still was I couldn't say no". Michelle's commencement speech was highlighted on an edition of the Chicago 7 News.
Michelle continued working with DRS to secure her career goal of counseling. With the partnering assistance from the Chicago Lighthouse, Michelle was able to begin her career with COMPSYCH in their EAP Department. Michelle says that employers who are looking to hire shouldn't judge someone with a disability just by their appearance but, "by the talent they bring".
Michelle tries to remain positive everyday even though she still faces challenges. "After being an individual with a spinal cord injury for 16 years, I believe differently tabled people are superheroes! I literally and figuratively need to find the strength to push myself around and push myself to remain continuously motivated. There are some days that I'm tired before I even get out of the bed, but I think about my future and my goals and I always get a second burst of energy to complete my day".
There is little doubt that Michelle Henton, Superhero, has the perseverance to fight whatever battle lies ahead, and still have time to see a play!
DHS's Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state's lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.
To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, read about DRS Services, or Apply Online.