Carolyn Hodge-WestCarolyn Hodge-West, with permission
MY HERO Board member Carolyn Hodge-West is a multi-sector business leader with extensive experience in leadership, government, philanthropy, nonprofit, and community and civic involvement.
An entrepreneur, Carolyn is a speciality licensed and certified Executive Mentor Coach and consultant, a licensed healthcare professional, former educator, government leader, and an innovative change expert. She is the CEO of the HodgeWest Group, an executive training, consulting, coaching, and wellness firm specializing in transformational leadership development, and career and life transition.
Carolyn told MY HERO, "I help business leaders communicate and navigate change and grow their organizations. The inevitability of change is constant—how we choose to navigate, adapt, and embrace change correlates to our personal and business success and our overall mental health and wellbeing."
Carolyn has successfully integrated and leveraged her extensive leadership skills across multiple sectors, including academia, philanthropy, business, healthcare, nonprofit and state and local government. She served as an elected official in Illinois and has served on numerous boards and executive advisory bodies.
Along with her rich career experience, Carolyn brings a diverse organizational leadership lens to her work on the MY HERO Board of Directors, where she has served since 2010.
Staying Well with Coach West: Empowering People to Thrive Through Change and Uncertainty
In 2020, when the world was in the unrelenting thralls of COVID, Carolyn put several wellness videos on YouTube to “help people stay well when things were not well." She wanted to do something to support the mental health and wellbeing for people—young and old—who were impacted by the trauma and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the videos Carolyn presents a simple guide in the form of an emotional toolkit that can be used by anyone, anytime. The toolkit includes tips for: harnessing the power of the brain to manage stress-related events that occur in daily life through deliberative focus on things within our control and practicing mindfulness; keeping a healthy mind and body- going with the flow of life and keeping it moving by using everyday tools to power optimal physical and mental functioning; practicing reflective gratitude, compassion and empathy; and learning to love ourselves and others unconditionally by tapping into and celebrating the unique strengths and talents that allow us to thrive.
After producing the videos, Carolyn shared the audio recording of Staying Well with MY HERO Director Jeanne Meyers, who then shared it with MY HERO Film Festival intern Jessica Ordaz, a college senior attending Woodbury College who specialized in animation. Jeanne pitched the idea that they work together to make an animated video using the audio of one of Carolyn’s videos. The goal was to expand the scope of MY HERO’s audience so that any child or adult anywhere in the world could see themselves in the video and know that “We are all in this together.”
Jessica Ordaz brought in some classmates to help; the team named themselves “Beemo.” The group consisted of five students: Jessica, Jennifer Bose, Emma Garcia, Felicia Paredes,
and Nicole Petrovsky. Carolyn, Jeanne, and Media Arts Educator Wendy Milette and her assistant Rachel Priebe offered their guidance, too. The students used simple shapes and colors in a “cartoon” style that would be easy to digest, Jessica told MY HERO.
The result was an elegant animation with gems of simple advice to navigate “the emotional fallout of the COVID crisis.”
Still shot from animated video, Staying Well with Coach WestJessica Ordaz, with permission
I asked Jessica to talk briefly about what it was like working on the video: "We worked hard to meet our deadline to post the video on MY HERO for Mental Health Awareness Month. We were eager to bring Carolyn's important message to life and we all believed in the content, that mental health has not been talked about enough during the global pandemic. Jennifer did the character design and then each team worked on their own section
for the short film while working remotely. The best part was toward the end when we saw all the parts come together."
Carolyn told MY HERO that she really enjoyed working with these talented young women: “It was a great collaborative effort and the final product makes me proud to have been part of the team. I approached our project with a mindset of curiosity and possibility, allowing the talents and gifts of these young women to take center stage.”
Jeanne Meyers, Founder and Executive Director of MY HERO, stated, “Carolyn was a great addition to the MY HERO Board, her business acumen, coaching, thoughtfulness and collaborative leadership skills are excellent and, she continues to be an ongoing catalyst for promoting and organizing sustainable growth and change in the organization.”
The feeling is mutual as Carolyn can’t say enough about Jeanne, MY HERO, and MY HERO’s “A-list board and staff:” “The unlimited volunteer talent pool, ongoing dedication and commitment of the MY HERO board members, Jeanne’s leadership, her very talented and gifted staff, and the excellent well
-thought out programs” are just a few highlights Carolyn shared during our interview.
We both agreed that MY HERO is uniquely value-based and represents a shift in consciousness to a strength-based, positive approach of being in the world. “I am so proud of all we have accomplished,” Carolyn said. “It has been an incredible journey to be part of and witness the ongoing transformation of the organization.”
Planting Seeds, Building Capacity, and Inspiring Hope
In our interview Carolyn noted that while she has many passions, at the top of her list is living a full, healthy, and joyous life with her family. Another passion that Carolyn has pursued over the course of her life and career lies in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and working to support and improve the status of women and girls. Her primary goal is to empower women to become advocates on their own behalf—personally, professionally, and in business and to help them learn from other powerful women role models as she does," she said.
When asked about what she’s most proud of, Carolyn said that her daughter LaNette was her greatest accomplishment in life. She’s also proud of her role in working with the State of Illinois Senate committee that established the first workplace sexual harassment policy in Illinois and her role in helping to leverage state and federal funds to build a state of the art, community-based healthcare center in a community where she grew up. Carolyn has also developed business and equity-based models and policies to expand opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses—lots to be proud of.
Carolyn told MY HERO that she particularly loves working with young people; for example, she adopted a school on the far south side of Chicago and has mentored many African American students. “There are so many lessons we can learn from young people,” she said.
One of Carolyn’s most profound experiences was teaching Psychology at Southwestern Michigan College (SMC):
I taught at the college for 12 years. For me this was a pivotal and life altering experience that helped me to see myself and the world in a new way. Teaching at SMC was humbling, enriching, and invigorating and I am without a doubt a better person for having had the experience.
In the Fall of 2016, my courses at the college had just started, and then about two weeks into the course my husband passed away suddenly. When I returned to class the following week, my students were stunned—they had assumed I wasn’t coming back. I thanked them for their cards and kind words and told them that I was accepting hugs. At the end of each class from that point through the end of the Fall semester, my students waited in line to hug me. It was such a beautiful human display of compassion, empathy, love, and connection and it supported my healing.
During our conversation, I realized that Carolyn is a woman with heart who operates from the inside out. Helping to build capacity and empowering others is deeply embedded in her DNA, it’s who she is. Her father, she says, used to say, “Leave the world in a better place than you found it.” Carolyn notes: “At the end of the day, it’s about using knowledge to do good and meaningful work. Empowering people is about generosity, empathy, kindness, and love and understanding: We all have these gifts at our disposal.”
A Chicago native, Carolyn grew up on the near north side of Chicago. Carolyn is currently working on one of her passions, a new book entitled, Tucked In, which celebrates the courage of women. Carolyn told MY HERO: "I have had the pleasure of knowing, meeting, collaborating, working with, admiring, and crossing paths with so many wonderful women over the course of my life and career. All of these amazing women continue to influence my life and serve as powerful models of empowerment. Their unique life stories, a vast repository of incalculable richness, provide a roadmap through triumph and adversity, goodness, kindness, feedback, generosity, friendship, compassion, courage, insight, and wisdom."
Carolyn currently lives in Michigan and continues to provide coaching, consulting, training, and partnering through her company HodgeWest Group as she seeks to build her “Coach West animation brand.” And, of course, she wants to keep working with MY HERO and continue to watch it grow.
View the short animated film, Staying Well with Coach West.