Rotary Profile – Cheryl Ewing
Cheryl Ewing can be described by anyone who knows her as passionate, determined, and dedicated. And it is these traits that have helped her make a marked impact both locally and internationally!
Though born in Kitchener, Cheryl spent her formative years in the small railroad and mining town of Capreol. She raised a family in Kirkland Lake, but eventually made her way back to Waterloo Region. Working with the Elora Festival, Cheryl was invited by a local graphic designer to a Rotary meeting. There she met a group of professionals active in their community. Cheryl was intrigued by the fellowship and the opportunity to network with people outside of the arts. She joined the Rotary Club of Fergus but, when she launched her own business two years later, she transferred to a closer club, the Rotary Club of Kitchener.
And she got involved straight away!
“Rotarian Carol Wiebe told me to get involved in committees and I took it to heart,” said Cheryl, “and I am glad I did. That is where my true friendships came from.”
When, then District Governor Doug Vincent, invited volunteers to join him to see a ‘shoebox project’ taking place in Nogales, Mexico (a joint initiative between Pantano Club in Tucson and the Rotary Club in Nogales), Cheryl jumped at the opportunity. Cheryl had always been interested in learning about people in other parts of the world and felt this trip could help accomplish this. But what she found was way more than she bargained for.
“When I took my first trip to Nogales I finally truly understood the power of Rotary. The willingness of strangers to put us up and help us get to the project—the diversity among us, but at our core, common values— it was overwhelming.”
The project, now entitled “Shoebox & Beyond”, brings much-needed aid to two impoverished Mexican communities – Nogales and Aqua Prieta. The program provides shoeboxes filled with necessities such as groceries, blankets, warm clothes, backpacks, hygiene supplies, and textbooks. Through the project they have also been able to provide the community medical supplies, firefighting equipment, educational fire safety colouring books, and one year, even an ambulance!
After four years with the project, one of the Nogales Rotarians said, “Cheryl, you keep coming back and we trust you because you do so.” Cheryl realized that her real success had been about building relationships with the Rotarians of Nogales; getting to know the people her work was helping on a deeper, richer level. Today she says the project is as much about going to visit friends as it is about doing the work of Rotary.
“It’s about sustainability; not necessarily in providing things, but in building sustainable relationships. By building these relationships, you truly know the people you are working with and helping, and they feel they can be honest with you about the needs of their community. Even better, understanding how much alike we are in our hearts, that this is where change takes place. That is the power of Rotary.”
Today Cheryl leads a District/US team of over a dozen volunteers to make the annual trip to Mexico. “Seeing the changes in the community as a result of our work, and being a major part of that, is something I am deeply proud of.”
In January of 2013 the Shoebox & Beyond project celebrated its 15th anniversary. And it shows no sign of stopping!
But Nogales isn’t Cheryl’s only Rotary accomplishment. She has spent time with the Rotary Youth Exchange programme and even hosted an exchange student; she worked successfully with fellow Rotarian, Barry McLeod, to secure an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant proposal for the Peace Park at Waterloo RIM Park; and was Club President in the year that the club launched its inaugural strategic planning process. “I learned a lot about our club and our membership that year,” said Cheryl. “I was proud to be able to prepare the foundation for our first strategic plan.”
In 2012 Cheryl worked with the City of Kitchener staff to assemble a small fundraiser as part of the City’s elaborate New Year’s Eve celebrations. She worked quickly to assemble a team of volunteers, and as with most of Cheryl’s projects, it was a success. At the end of the evening, the City invited Cheryl and her team back for future years.
Beyond the modest dollars it raised, the event gave Rotary a very visible presence in the community. “It’s great when people see our Rotary signage and come up to thank us for what we do in the community,” said Cheryl.
This past year some of that gratitude spilled over onto social media. “It was nice to have the local politicians and City recognise us online; but when we started getting tweets and Facebook posts from the public…well, that was very cool.”
Today Cheryl provides that same sage advice she received to new Rotarians: get involved. “You have to be open and willing and put yourself forward. Find what makes you passionate and know that you will have a group of committed people helping you”.
In addition to her busy arts consultancy, a full and rewarding Rotary life, and family, Cheryl always finds time for her other passion—dance. “My love of dance has bridged the lack of a common language in my Rotary trips. In Brazil it led to a wonderful morning of dance with breast cancer survivors. A shared experience that words cannot transcend.”
And, as much as Cheryl has given to Rotary, she feels that she has been a recipient of its generosity as well. “The end of my year as Rotary President a member of my family was severely injured. I was stretched incredibly thin. But members visited him, asked about him, and offered their support to me. I was incredibly grateful for my Rotary family and humbled by their thoughtfulness.”
Shoebox & Beyond project, check out their Facebook page. To find out more about Rotary and how you can have an impact locally or globally, contact us by email at RotaryKitchener@gmail.com or visit our website, our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter.