Michelle I. Quinell-Gayle, 39: St. Lawrence NYSARC


When it comes to good business, Michelle I. Quinell-Gayle believes in making local connections, giving credit where it’s due, and good old R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

“If you’re not respecting your team, you really cannot create anything,” she said, stressing that it’s important to value an employee’s talents and not see them as subordinates. “That’s what separates people.”

The 39-year-old assistant executive director of community relations for St. Lawrence NYSARC, Canton, created the organization’s community relations department 10 years ago, which she now runs with a staff of eight. Under her direction, the department has increased NYSARC’s revenue through fundraising, and has improved the quality of it services, according those who nominated her. She previously worked as a publicist in New York City, achieving media placements in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Parade magazine, and on MSNBC.

Mrs. Quinell-Gayle said her late father, who was a school board president and accountant at General Motors, taught her to be consistent, serious, and rational when making decisions.

Mrs. Quinell-Gayle said she returned to the north country after the sudden death of her father, also coming back to care for her ailing mother. She said she was fortunate to find employment with NYSARC in a new position that she had the freedom to design herself.

“It was a dream,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if they’d want someone my age but our CEO is a visionary.”

She said she stayed in the region because she is proud of her job, and because there is much more to do to improve public perception of people with disabilities.

Of all her working adventures, through New Jersey, New York City and elsewhere, she said working for NYSARC has been one of the most fulfilling.

“What you get working with people with disabilities is the emotional support, but also the relationships that you build,” she said. “I don’t think I expected that when this position came open.”

She said it is incredibly gratifying to see program participants get to express themselves through art for their community.

On her journey she has learned to be creative, compassionate and persistent, and to maintain a balance between work and home life.

When asked what company she’d like to see realized in the region, she envisioned a conference center, so that the north country could become a stop for big entertainment acts and other events as they travel through town, connecting with venues in Syracuse, Montreal and Plattsburgh. She explained that creation of such a venue would encourage people to stay local and would create jobs.

Asked how the region can retain its youth, Mrs. Quinell-Gayle said access to local internships and entry-level jobs are keys. She explained that her experiences outside the region prepared her for her present job.

“In order to come back and get this job, I really did need to get the experiences that I did,” she said. “I think if I had had an opportunity for even an internship or something where I could have stayed local, I might not have gone to the city.”

Cherry L. Andre, who nominated Mrs. Quinell-Gayle, said that through a deep understanding of community, she has been able to delicately and compassionately work with NYSARC’s program participants and their families, a necessity when they have a variety of literacy levels and socioeconomic circumstances.

“Michelle’s approach and solid connections create lasting relationships, built on trust and belief in the quality of life all people should enjoy,” she said, adding that a proud parent gratefully hugged Mrs. Quinell-Gayle in tears after she helped her son achieve his dream of becoming an actor. “[She] is a voice you can depend on and trust, knowing that she follows through on her word.”

— by Alan Rizzo


The Michelle I. Quinell-Gayle File

Hometown: Helena

Professional position: Assistant executive director of community relations, St. Lawrence NYSARC

Family: Husband, Matthew A. Gayle, music teacher, Hermon-DeKalb Central School; son Wesley Q., 6 months

Education: Bachelor’s in mass media communications with a music minor, SUNY Plattsburgh

Community involvement: Member: Canton Rotary Club and Team NYSARC; board member, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce; merit badge counselor, Boy Scouts of America

Last book read: “What to Expect the First Year” by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, and “Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King”