Mike Barnhart '97 Headshot

Mike Barnhart '97

CEO | Horizons

Social Work

Building community

Mike Barnhart ’97 never pictured himself as a college graduate. Despite this, Mike graduated from Mount Mercy University, has thrived during a long career with non-profit agencies, and serves as the CEO of Horizons - A Family Service Alliance.

In 2008, Mike found himself in a skywalk trying to get into the Neighborhood Transportation Services (NTS) office in downtown Cedar Rapids. Flood waters were continuing to rise beneath him, but Mike—who was the Executive Director of NTS—knew he wanted to save critical information before the torrent washed it away.

Unfortunately, the key to the gate within the skywalk was too low to access, so he had to get creative.

“We climbed over the gate, we had to bust up this plexiglass,” said Mike. “We’re wading through this water and I took all my computers upstairs.”

Mike was able to save servers with rider information. This allowed NTS to provide transportation just a few days after the flood so people could continue to go to work.

“I was 34 when I started college,” Mike shared. “In my early life I had drug problems, I never graduated high school, and when I started going back to school, I had no clue what I wanted to do.”

Mike started taking classes at Kirkwood and was exploring career possibilities within the helping professions. He considered working as a Substance Abuse Counselor, but he wasn’t sure if one-on-one work was the right path.

“It seemed like social work was a better fit for me,” Mike shared. “Especially when I started learning about macro and micro practice. Macro practice was a place for me.”

When Mike transferred to Mount Mercy, he began in the social work program and got hands-on experience that confirmed his choice. His field placement at the MAHP Housing Agency helped him see the effects of macro social work in real time.

“I worked with these kids from Metro High School,” said Mike. “I felt like, I was one of those Metro kids when I was that age, and I really liked that.”

As Mike learned more about the possibilities of social work, he embraced the program even more. He found a lot of encouragement from his professors: John Rogers, Joni Howland, and Rick Zingher.

Mike experienced a lot of life changes at Mount Mercy—including the death of his mother and the birth of his daughter. Throughout these major life occurrences, Mike always felt the support of his professors.

With the motivation of mentors, hard-work, and dedication, Mike graduated from Mount Mercy.

“I never thought I’d graduate from college,” said Mike. “I didn’t think that was in the cards for me.”

"I never thought I’d graduate from college. I didn’t think that was in the cards for me."

Mike Barnhart '97
CEO | Horizons

After graduation, Mike began his career in the human services industry. He began as the Executive Director of NTS in 2000.

Mike was honored with Mount Mercy’s Alumni Merit Award in 2004. The Alumni Merit Award is awarded to recent alumni who show promise of significant professional growth and achievement.

In 2015, NTS merged with Horizons, and Mike became a Vice President. In 2018, Mike took over as CEO.

Offering a variety of human services across Eastern Iowa—including transportation, financial wellness, and Meals on Wheels—Horizons has provided opportunities to improve the lives of individuals and families for 60 years.

The flood was not the only time in Mike’s career that he had to adapt quickly. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Horizons had to consider what shifts they could make to Meals on Wheels to keep everyone as safe as possible while still providing much-needed meals.

Just a few months later, the derecho hit and a lot of Cedar Rapids homes found themselves without power. Meals on Wheels again stepped in, delivering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, canned goods, and other non-perishable foods two days later.

“The thing I’m probably most proud of is the team that’s assembled here at Horizons,” Mike shared.

“Human services and social work are female dominated industries, and I’m especially very proud of the strong, smart, independent women that work with me.”

Mike feels that his education set him up for success within his career. He works with a lot of fellow alumni and enjoys speaking with others about their Mount Mercy experience.

“I value my education from Mount Mercy,” Mike shares. “It’s always an instant connection when I see somebody else that has graduated from Mount Mercy.”

“I think back fondly on my days of walking through the tunnels,” said Mike. “It was a wonderful learning experience and I can’t think of another place I would have rather gone to school.”

"I value my education from Mount Mercy. It’s always an instant connection when I see somebody else that has graduated from Mount Mercy."

Mike Barnhart '97
CEO | Horizons

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