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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 66: Cheryl Schuch

Cheryl Schuch
Cheryl Schuch
Cheryl Schuch

Cheryl Schuch of Family Promise Grand Rapids joins us for this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk

Cheryl Schuch is the Executive Director of Family Promise Grand Rapids, providing emergency shelter and housing services to families with children. She serves on boards, wins awards and has spent time in the Silicon Valley. The secret to her success just may be hanging out in the barn and riding a horse. We welcome Cheryl to this edition of Powerful Woman: Let's Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.


Intro: produced by women about women Powerful women. Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live in.


Shelly Irwin: Cheryl Schuch serves as executive director of family promise, Grand Rapids providing emergency shelter and housing services to families with children in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She serves on boards. She wins awards and spent some time in the Silicon Valley, the secret to her success maybe hanging out in the barn and riding a horse. We welcome you, Cheryl, to this edition of powerful women. Let's talk.

Cheryl Schuch: Thanks, Shelly

Shelly Irwin: your favorite places to be at the barn riding a horse. You have a favorite horse.

Cheryl Schuch: my very first one. His name was Rudy Too like t o o also. And just kind of found my sea legs in riding with him. I was, you know, a young girl at the barn and then jumping, you know, doing all the crazy things you do riding in the fields, and he just took good care of me. So, he will always be my favorite

Shelly Irwin: yes, and yet. We'll get to this. Perhaps you are. And will even more carve out time in your busy life to ride a horse.

Cheryl Schuch: Absolutely. Enjoy that with my daughter, it was a special thing that we did together, although I had to borrow her horses. Of course, you know, that table flip a little bit when you have kids. But yeah, the last couple years I haven't had as much time to do that. And you know, weve all gone through some reflection these last couple years. And that's the thing I'm going to back to ready for that for next year.

Shelly Irwin: Good we'll touch more on life balance in a minute. Who was Cheryl Schuch at 12 years old?

Cheryl Schuch: I was probably like every other gawky, 12-year-old girl. I'm sure you look back, and you see those pictures and those are the ones you kind of take off the wall and tuck away. But. You know at 12 that was an interesting time for me because it was the early 70's. I was very aware of what was happening kind of in our world and for women at the time. But I just had a really strong support, a family who told me I could do anything that I wanted to do. So. I was probably a very confident 12-year-old, probably a little bit of a people pleaser like most women or girls are at that time. But also felt very empowered. I grew up with a family with a lot of men around me. And yeah, just learn how you can walk in the world

Shelly Irwin: growing up in Kalamazoo. What path did you seek to take educationally at the University of Michigan and why.

Cheryl Schuch: So, my dad was a professor at Western at the time. And so, I had a great opportunity to go to Western in some of their honors program in there. But I wanted to go away from home. I wanted to spread my wings and my mom was a proud U of M grad and my dad actually went there for a time to before graduating from another University, but just always had maize and blue in my heart, I think. And it was a challenge. Michigan has always been a tough school to get into so doing well in high school and getting good grades. So, you can accomplish something like that was a real win for me at that time I was really proud to be accepted there

Shelly Irwin: and a message to the young one listening to this conversation. So what path did you study?

Cheryl Schuch: So, I spent most of my time in economics and some business development. And this is psych classes. Anything that had to do with people really focused on people and how we work. Macroeconomics versus microeconomics, lots of business classes but really focused on people.

Shelly Irwin: And yet you spend 16 years developing a career, a sales and marketing exec in the computer industry.

Cheryl Schuch: Right. So, you know, people graduate from college, and everybody says what are you going to do. And so, my dad asked me what are you going to do. And I said I have no idea. I thought maybe wanted to be a lawyer and decided about halfway through college. That wasn't going to be for me banking. There's an obvious path for somebody with that kind of ECON background. But he then asked, another question he said. So, what do you not going to do what have you ruled out. What have you learned that you don't want to do? And one of the things I told him I didn't want to do had anything to do with computers. Hated my programming classes really didn't like computers in my very first job I got was in the tech industry working with the computer company. So, it was super ironic the joke in our family for years to come. But I ended up on the people side of that business ended up in the marketing and sale side. And I loved the things that computers were empowering us to do. I loved the way that they allowed us to communicate. I loved the innovation that came with them. I loved the entrepreneurial part of that industry at the time it was the early 80's. So, it was the wild wild West and that industry was fun. And you know, we were really building the bike as we were riding.

Shelly Irwin: And so, you basically accomplished a goal early on living in the Silicon Valley.

Cheryl Schuch: Yeah, I did. I worked for a couple really large computer companies international had time in Asia and spent time internationally and developing large systems for distribution and sales networks here in the United States. But my favorite times for the 2 small startups that I worked for. And both of those actually went public the last one at the end of my career. I was based in Palo Alto. I was the 11th employee on for that company was really proud to work there and got to be part of taking a company public which was really exciting. I learned so much. It's kind of like getting an MBA crash course on the job, you know, but it just really an amazing time. And that was my pivot point, you know, that was just before the year 2000. And we all know kind of what happened with the tech bubble then. So, it was the perfect time for me to exit. I had been in that business for quite some time and had some new things I needed to do

Shelly Irwin: and that probably meant do the world of nonprofits.

Cheryl Schuch: It did except I didn't know that's what it was going to be. Then I just knew that I had watched, you know, from a corporate seat, a lot of change happen in our country. And I knew that there was a lot of work. People were successful. But we saw the divide happening. People were getting poorer kids were struggling and not having the same resources that they had had during my childhood, and I felt like I needed to impact that in some way or bring what I had in my tool box, you know, to that space to help. I've always had a passion for kids. And so, when we moved back to,West Michigan. It gave me the opportunity to say how do I want to pivot. And I thought maybe I was going go into social work, maybe be a school. Social worker. Always loved working with kids in the education space and my dad who was a social work professor at Western at the time said, you now know that just not for you, but you might be able to be a really great nonprofit administrator. You sat on a lot of boards. Why don’t you take a peek? And that launched me into a whole new direction in my current career today.

Shelly Irwin: yes. Switch is defined in your words, you are working with Some very necessary, folk who need your help.

Cheryl Schuch: Absolutely. So housing is such a conversation in our country, in our community right now. It's a struggle. It's a struggle for middle class families. It's a struggle for some of our lower income families. And quite frankly, it's a struggle for some of our wealthier families and their kids as they're graduating from college and trying to figure out how to make these mortgage payments or rent payments. So, families with kids who are losing their housing needing shelter needing a safe place to be and needing to find a new place to call home and that you cannot extract housing from poverty. You know, there have been some really groundbreaking studies talking about how housing is actually loss of housing is a root cause of poverty. We always talk about getting at the root causes. And we know that most of our chronic homeless adults were homeless children. So, breaking the cycle for families and making sure those kids have a secure place to call home changes the way that their bodies and their brains develop it changes who they become as an adult in our community. So, I couldn't think of a more profound impactful place to work with kids. Right now.

Shelly Irwin: how do you separate the hard work in the decisions that must be made from the emotional use that word trauma you might see on a daily basis. One knocking at your door saying I need help.

Cheryl Schuch: Yeah. And we do you know; we live in a space of that emergency services. So, I walk into the building and somebody standing there at the door waiting to get in or needing to talk to someone. They're in crisis. We see kids who are having a rough day and we need to drop what we're doing and kind of, you know, all hands-on deck to just settle things down and in given the love and support that they need. But I also get to see the wins. I get to see the families who are so resilient, so faithful. So incredibly strong. Find housing. I see them come back through our doors, you know, weeks, months and years later with invitations in hand to their child's graduation party or a wedding or whatever that might be, and they walk back in so physically change. They looked so different when we come back in because they're thriving and so get to see that part of it, too. And so that hope and knowing what's possible I think is what gets us through the tough times during the day. But it's tough. We're in a situation in our community right now where we don't have enough shelter for kids. We've had 50 families come to our door since September 1st that we haven't been able to shelter because we just don't have enough rooms in the community. So that's tough. It's tough to see a community of abundance and a community of resources and then see children not be in a safe space.

Shelly Irwin: Your passion evident your good work evident. Do you ever do a would I e. Why didn't I start this? This nonprofit to management right away or do you thank you for 16 years.

Cheryl Schuch: You know, I think that you’re always a product of what your life has been. So, I don't know if I would be here in this work today had I not taken that journey done those skills. I learned as a business executive the innovation entrepreneurial space to be able to step into a nonprofit. You really have to have those inhibitions and those that courage to take a leap. You have to be a leader with courage at all times, no matter how tough it is. Covid is a great example, and you can't stop. You can't go into a bunker; you have to keep pushing forward. And I learned that in the tech industry, I learned how to create things, how to build things. So, I think that that prepared me to be a good nonprofit leader in a lot of ways. And I also think it allowed me to see the world and to have an understanding of a little more humility as you know, for something from our country knowing that there's lots of ways to do things. Lots of great solutions, great empathy for people. So, it sounds funny that those things came out of the tech industry, but they did. And I think that that made me, you know, able to do what I'm doing today.

Shelly Irwin: Maybe it's one of the reasons why you've won the I have made a difference award One of the many. All right. Fun facts. Back to riding horses. So, this was an important to in young life. And you do want to look to returning it as maybe a life balance.

Cheryl Schuch: It is. Yes. So, you know, when you take care of an animal, especially a horse, a big, huge animal who's kind of clunky and crazy sometimes. And they require a lot of attention, a lot of physical activity. You learn a huge lesson in responsibility and work ethic. You have to be there all the time every day. We didn't have a lot of money. So I worked for some of my board. I helped muck stalls I helped clean tack. I helped do things to make the rest of the barn work. I learned about being part of a team, too. But I think the most important thing I learned was that I couldn't ride the horse without, you know, the horse and that no matter what I wanted to do that day. We had to work in concert and together. You have to have incredible balance and core strength to be a great rider to be kind to your animal and to be a good partner in that little dance that you do. And so I learned that I can't do it by myself with ayou know, the horse was one example. The team at the barn was another. And those were just such great life skills and it gave me balance. Gave me grounding to walk up to a beast that huge and pet them and have them be kind and be excited to see you when you come out to the pasture. It's kind of unconditional love as a 12 year-old and that kind of set the stage for me understanding what it was like to live in the world with everyone else.

Shelly Irwin: Tell me more about your heritage and how you're keeping that close to your heart. Yes.

Cheryl Schuch: So we have the interesting background. My parents both have a mix in their families from all over the world. I have family that's from Germany and from Western Europe and really all over. But the most interesting part I think is our Choctaw and Chickasaw heritage for our tribes here in the United States and it's become it was a big source of interest. My dad researched it to death after he retired. We learned so much about our family coming from the South, the trail of tears that they experienced going out to the reservations where my grandparents grew up very involved with the Choctaw tribe at the time you had to pick one to the long to even though they had mixed heritage. So I'm officially a member of that tribe as are my children and my parents. I get the newspaper once a month. And I get letters from the chief, although we didn't have the experience of learning a lot of the heritage of the tribe because we're living here in Michigan, but it's a proud piece of our heritage and a piece that, you know, we're continually trying to understand and engage and advocate for

Shelly Irwin: and you must be spoiled. The only what granddaughter on both sides of your families to keep that in check.

Cheryl Schuch: I said I grew up with a lot of men and a lot of testosterone in our family. And I think that kept me in check. I would say I was less spoiled and more survival of the fittest in that family with all those boys around the Thompson side, especially was a ruckus crew they are practical jokers and there were no boundaries. So growing up with that set of cousins. really had to keep pace and hold your own. And it was super fun. We had cottage up north that the family convened at my grandmother passed away. When I was young only in second grade. So a big influence with my grandpa in that family. So it was it was definitely, you know, see, get strong really quick and stay strong and hold your own. But that really provided me an opportunity to go into the tech industry which was so male dominated and understand that world.

Shelly Irwin: Thank you for that. So a 21 year-old woman comes to you and says i just got my degree. I want to go somewhere, but I don't know what to do. Do you think back to your days and what is your recommendation to her.

Cheryl Schuch: I said this is what I don't want to do. And then I did it. So I think the first thing I would say is don't rule anything out because there's always an opportunity and almost anything that you might seek to choose. The second is listen to your self and trust yourself. I think that we're not taught to do that often enough as women. But, you know, take that time that quiet time to know who you are and to listen to what your dreams are. And then once you figure that out, just don't stop. Put your foot on the gas. Don't take no for an answer and go get it

Shelly Irwin: reading anything good listening to anything you recommend.

Cheryl Schuch: Yes. So right now on my audible, I do some drive time every day. So I definitely do audible and read. I'm Obsessive reader. I go through about 10 to 12 books a month. But right now my honorable is the book called cast by Isabel Wilkerson. It is a profound book that after you listen to it or read it. You can't unsee things. So I highly recommend it. It will challenge everything you think about your orientation to your community and to others

Shelly Irwin: and in closing, are you able to sit at peace and know that you are doing good work for others.

Cheryl Schuch: I am. I see those kids and those families every day when I show up at the door and we ran a number last week just since the beginning of covid March of 2020. We had over 1200 children go through shelter alone with our programming. So knowing that that capacity was there. Those rooms were available. Those kids were kept safe both from covid and from the trauma of homelessness is just so comforting and so humbling. So I know we're doing great work. I have an amazing team who's on the front lines every day. And my job is to show up and figure out how I can help do it.

Shelly Irwin: So ending homelessness. One family at a time is a pretty good motto

Cheryl Schuch: It's a great motto.

Shelly Irwin: Cheryl Schuch, thank you very much for this opportunity to spotlight you on our powerful women. Let's talk

Cheryl Schuch: thanks for celebrating women Shelly

Shelly Irwin: And that is this edition of powerful women lets talk I am Shelly Irwin


Outro: produced by women about women these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women in how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk get additional interviews at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women. Let's talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU. Its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The Shelley Irwin Show, a news magazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast at 9 a.m., features a wide variety of local and national news makers, plus special features.
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