Thursday March 22, 2018
What can we do to improve the human condition? You may think the answer is long and complicated, but South Burlington resident Michael Simoneau believes all it takes is to utilize what you enjoy doing and “leverage that as a vehicle to do something for others.”
For Simoneau, real estate is what he enjoys doing as a vocation. Along with his wife, Geri Reilly, he has owned Geri Reilly Reality for eight years now, and has been a broker for more than four decades. He admits, though, when he was a young college graduate 40 years ago, he was living a life mostly about himself, and it took the encouragement of a good friend working in real estate for him to enter the profession.
While he enjoyed his work as a young professional, he remembers feeling as if he was still living a mostly self-involved life. The opportunity to be a Burlington Boys and Girls Club board member during the 1990s was the impetus he needed to “formally commit” to acting on behalf of others. During his tenure on the board, he organized fundraising events such as golf tournaments and Burlington’s yearly Chew-Chew Festival.
As a Howard Center board member for the past 14 years, Simoneau has maintained his commitment to serving others. Currently, he is board president, and is actively engaged in programs that support the organization’s mission of improving “the well-being of children, adults, families, and communities.” In collaboration with Champlain Housing Trust, he helped set up a residential program in Burlington, and worked tirelessly to place the Chittenden Clinic on San Remo Drive.
Simoneau has also been a long-time committee member for the Curling Challenge, a yearly event sponsored by community businesses that has raised funds for Howard Center clients. Recently having completed its final year, the event raised $50,000. In its nine-year history, the Curling Challenge has raised more than $450,000.
Simoneau recognizes the worth in organizing these kinds of events, as it has advanced his appreciation of what it means to be a board member, “Fundraising is a synonym for being on a board.” In the case of the Curling Challenge, he owes the event’s success to the Green Mountain Curling Club, whose members have provided participants with instruction and equipment over the years. “They’re the foundation of the tournament, the reason we’ve been able to do this.”
More than his role as a fundraiser, Simoneau prefers to be known as “the messenger.” First and foremost, he urges us to first determine what “mission” it is we are passionate about. That passion will bring us “gratification.” Simoneau speaks from experience. As an early Howard Center board member, he recalls not being quite gratified with his role. Whether it was due to the passage of time, maturity, or the responsibilities that came with raising children, he remembers eventually finding what he calls his “place.” He asked himself, “What kind of world are my kids going to live in? What kind of people are my kids going to be?” Exploring those kinds of questions deepened his thinking as to what it takes to serve others with authenticity. “When you move beyond transactional as opposed to transformative relationships, you understand what life is about.” Rather than our needs coming first, it is the caring for others that takes precedence.
Simoneau’s capacity to embrace the concept of transformational relationships has made him more confident when talking to others about the Howard Center’s mission, a confidence that has influenced his philosophy toward all aspects of his life. Whether it involves real estate or raising money, he believes it’s about “offering, not asking.” When offered the opportunity to engage in something they feel good about, people become “empowered.” With that empowerment, people are energized to do even more.
Integral to the human condition, however, is our sense of doubt. We’ve all questioned our capacity at times to effect change. Each time we question ourselves, Simoneau encourages us to embrace his mantra, “You can control the effort; you can’t control the outcome.” He does acknowledge, though, that for those, who are burdened with day-to-day uncertainty, all they can think about is, “Do I have enough money to feed and clothe my kids? Do I have enough money to pay the heating bill this month?” Yet, Simoneau believes they can make a difference. “We’re all superheroes,” he says. “You can be a superhero.”
Simoneau credits Geri Reilly for his professional success, which has afforded him the mental space to think about how he can help others. “I feel lucky,” he says. He is also grateful for the gift of community relationships he has built during his years as a board member. Regarding other Howard Center board members, he recognizes the challenges they face, and describes being in the same room with them as “intoxicating.” So too does he hold in high esteem those beyond the boardroom, “They’re the ones sewing our community together through their service.”
Unquestionably, Simoneau, himself, has added a few stiches through his career of community service. Currently, in addition to his work on the board with the Howard Center, he is a South Burlington Business Association board member and serves on the city’s recreation and parks and affordable housing committees. Understanding the difference participation and contribution can make, Simoneau expresses its essence, “Love your neighbor. Lift those up who need help.”