Growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mr. McHale was originally introduced to philanthropy by his parents. He recalls witnessing his mother on the phone contacting members of her school board and church, and being inspired by the reach of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which he learned about from its annual reports. He also often went to committee meetings with his mother, or assisted his father with church fundraisers on weekends. This prevalence of volunteerism during his youth led him to view volunteering as a part of everyday life, though he did not view it as career option until he was diagnosed with cancer in high school.
When in high school, Mr. McHale was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that resulted in the amputation of his left leg. While this was, of course, a misfortune, it allowed him to see the importance of the different foundations, which helped to support his parents and his treatments. He recognized that not only were there jobs in the nonprofit sector, but also that the charitable nonprofits allowed him an outlet to help in the fight against cancer, and those affected by it. This led to his involvement with the American Cancer Society as a fundraiser and “poster child” both during and directly after college. He continued to work for the American Cancer Society for two years after graduation, before looking for employment elsewhere in the field.
Mr. McHale moved to St. Mary’s Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a development associate, where he worked closely with well-trained and experienced fundraisers. During this time, he also created a week-long camp for kids with cancer, Camp Catch-A-Rainbow, so that they could share experiences and support among peers — something he felt he lacked in his own treatment. It was during this camp that he began to understand the benefits of empowering youth, and placing them on the board, an experience that served him well throughout his career.
After two years at St. Mary’s, Mr. McHale was recruited to work at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, Michigan, where he served as a development manager and marketing specialist, creating a development program for the institution. While there, he formed another camp, similar to Camp Catch-A-Rainbow, in the former Soviet Union for children who had acquired cancer as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Dr. Kathy Agard served as the director for the division that included development at Hackley Hospital, prior to moving to the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF). She was familiar with Mr. McHale’s work and when funding was awarded for the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project, she recruited Mr. McHale as the project’s first program associate with primary responsibility for creating and implementing the youth empowerment responsibilities. While there, he assisted in implementing a $35 million challenge grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that aimed to ensure that every citizen in Michigan had access to a community foundation, but more specifically to Mr. McHale, to introduce young people to philanthropy. This led to the creation of Youth Advisory Councils (YACs), which seek to allow youth leaders to act as grantmakers and solve real problems in their communities.
In 1993, after two successful years at CMF, Mr. McHale was offered the position of executive assistant to Dr. Russ Mawby, president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which he accepted with Ms. Dorothy A. Johnson’s (CMF’s CEO) and Dr. Agard’s blessings. Mr. McHale remained at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation until 2014, serving as a program officer, chief of staff, and finally as senior vice president for programs.