by Mary Jo David
Making the world a better place. To some that might sound cheesy or cliché. But if you’re fortunate enough to be friends with, related to, or work with Jill Peck of Stockbridge, you know it really is possible for one person to make that kind of difference.
Family is her life
Growing up in Jackson as the youngest of six, Gillian “Jill” Crowley had great role models in her older siblings. Losing her father at the young age of 9, she and her siblings had to work when they could. But Jill recalls them always helping one another. She mentions her older brother sending her “$5 here, $10 there,” while she was at Michigan State University, so she wouldn’t have to work during her freshman year.
“They all helped raise me, and during that time, I watched and learned. My family has been such an inspiration in my life,” she said.
Jill was introduced to Dave Peck through one of her MSU roommates. Jill and Dave married and moved to Stockbridge when their oldest son was born. Their children, Patrick, Sean and Erin, were all raised in Stockbridge and are now living in San Antonio, East Lansing, and Midland, respectively. Jill and Dave also are the proud grandparents of five grandchildren who range from 22 to 7 years of age.
The Pecks have traveled extensively, including trips to immerse themselves in both sides of Jill’s heritage — the Italian and the Irish. They visited Bantry in County Cork, Ireland, with their son Patrick and his wife Shanna. While there, Shanna arranged for Jill to march with the Crowley clan — Crowleys are everywhere in Bantry — in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Jill’s Italian grandparents hailed from Dernice, a small Italian village nestled in the foothills of the Alps. She and Erin visited Dernice together and had the opportunity to meet relatives who still live there.
Committed to her work
Jill has spent the better part of her adult life in service to others. Graduating from MSU with a degree in anthropology, her marriage and children took precedence over going on the next big dig. Instead she took a job at Highfields, a small, nonprofit residential facility for boys, in Onondaga, Michigan.
Her job was challenging and difficult, but she loved it. She moved on to an in-home counseling program focused on keeping families together. After returning to school to get a master’s in social work from Eastern Michigan University, she went on to get her license in social work.
For 26 years, Jill remained at Highfields, a place she still speaks of fondly. From family preservation work she moved to other roles and was eventually promoted to quality director. Carl Latona, a former CEO at Highfields, continues to inspire her work.
“He helped me see that you don’t always have to be in direct contact to make an impact. By inspiring some, you can impact the lives of so many more. His words have helped to shape my work in quality,” Jill explains.
While at Highfields, she worked for nine years as an adjunct instructor at EMU, teaching part time in the Masters in Social Work program.
One of her students later became a vice president at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan and approached Jill about working with that organization. After much consideration, she accepted the job (the organization is now called Samaritas) and is in her 12th year as senior quality director in the Child and Family Division.
At Samaritas, Jill has been exposed to programs she had not worked with previously — foster care, adoption, and even refugee programs. While Highfields immersed her in the Jackson/Hillsdale/Ingham County areas, her new job expanded her horizons to include programs across the entire Lower Peninsula.
“In a way, I potentially touch the lives of thousands of people in a year, and that is so rewarding to me,” Jill said. “My work enriches me, and being able to help people makes me continue to want to work.”
Through her career, Jill has been exposed to many stories about individuals and families — here and in other countries.
“People generally have strong feelings one way or the other about helping those in need, and especially refugees, but I hear real stories on my job and they are so amazing. I can’t help but think we would all be much more compassionate and empathetic if we could walk a mile in the shoes of others,” she said.
Community closer to home
Recognizing the value of a good education, Jill was a founding member of the Stockbridge Area Education Foundation. She worked hard on SAEF initiatives for 12 years and is proud of that work and the difference SAEF continues to make in the community. She also has done valuable work getting millages passed for Stockbridge schools.
“That’s one of the great things about the Stockbridge School District. It’s small enough that, if you choose to get involved, there’s a good chance you can be heard and make a difference in the district,” she said.
Jill proudly mentions that all three of her children graduated from Stockbridge High School and have gone on to lead successful lives as adults. And she can point to many others, besides her own children, who have done the same.
“I like to joke and tell people I’ve lived here in Stockbridge for 40 years but can never truly belong because I wasn’t born here. But the truth is, we’ve raised our family here and developed some very strong relationships with local friends and families. It’s a great community, and we have a wonderful life in Stockbridge.”