35 years and hundreds of kids later, his passion continues.
Gary Turner has the natural-born talent of a social worker. He grew up in Lansing with five siblings, and his home was always open to friends and neighbors. His mother was a home-maker and took care of everyone. Gary was inspired by the way she helped people with their problems.
“My mother was probably the biggest inspiration as far as me getting into the field,” said Gary. “She taught us to always have that helping mentality.”
Gary knew that social work was his calling. He studied Sociology at Michigan State University and took a job in Washington D.C. after graduation. He was excited to head off into the world and make change by assisting lower income families; however, the job wasn’t what he expected.
“I kept thinking they would call on me for a new opportunity actually helping people, but it never happened,” he said.
Disappointed, Gary went back home to Lansing and started delivering pizza to make ends meet. Then he got an interesting call from his family friend, Tiny Laster. Tiny worked at Highfields in the 1980’s and asked Gary if he wanted to interview for a part-time overnight position where he would actually be using his degree to help kids. Gary applied and got the job.
The position paid less than his pizza delivery job, but he was thrilled to finally be doing something in his chosen field.
“My first week at Highfields wasn’t a shock for me,” he said. “I’ve always done this kind of work in my community, and in the schools I went to. I was always one of the go-to people for advice. Growing up in a big neighborhood I saw a lot of situations that were far worse than anything I saw at Highfields.”
Within three weeks he moved up to a full-time position. In 1986, he became a Family Counselor.
“I kept working, making steps, and learning as I went,” said Gary. “I’ve seen so many kids with so many diverse issues; the biggest challenge is maintaining it all and trying to help them however I can.”
To this day, Gary still gets calls from students he’s helped in the past.
“Most of them are pretty proud of what they’ve accomplished in their lives,” he said. “The lessons are finally sinking in and making sense to them.”
At Highfields, Gary finally found the place that was right for him. He has stayed committed to his passion of helping kids for 35 years.
“With the way the kids turn over, there’s never a good time to leave,” he said. “It seems like there’s always someone who comes in the door that needs you, and I just hate to leave somebody like that.”