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Powerful Women: Let's Talk – 89: Sharon Caldwell-Newton

Sharon Caldwell-Newton
Sharon Caldwell-Newton

Sharon Caldwell-Newton, Executive Director for C-SNIP, joins Shelley Irwin on this episode of Powerful Women: Let's Talk

Sharon Caldwell-Newton has served as the Executive Director for C-SNIP since 2016. Her role is to educate and engage the community with the organizational mission, hire and lead the staff team, advise the board of directors, operationalize strategic goals and organizational policy, and manage the resources of the organization. C-SNIP is dedicated to preventing pet overpopulation while increasing the community’s access to veterinary care. CSNIP helped over 20,000 dogs, cats and their humans in 2021.

Sharon has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 40 years, 37 of which have been in an executive capacity. Her experience is focused in leading community-based organizations to address community needs while working towards systemic change. Most of her career has been in the human service sector, devoted to reducing poverty through economic/career development and social justice. Her life-long love of animals, particularly dogs and cats, was a driving force behind her decision to join the C-SNIP team. Sharon has a B.S degree in Criminal Justice/Sociology from Western Michigan University, has one adult son, and lives with her three cats, Apollo, Carmel, and Tudi.

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>> 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.


Shelley Irwin: Sharon Caldwell-Newton serves as the executive director for C-SNIP dedicated to preventing pet overpopulation. She's been called to serve in the nonprofit sector for over 40 years. Her experience focused on leading community-based organizations to address community needs while working toward systemic change. That's a biggie, we'll talk about it. So, let's talk to her about her journey to success and why her superhero is Wonder Woman on this edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. Hi Sharon.

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Thank you and good morning.

Shelley Irwin: Good day to you and let's talk certainly about many aspects of your life but, I'm going to basically have you set the scene. Describe you and your first maybe memory of your earliest pet.

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Well, that's a big question but, sounds good. So, let me start a little about me. I'm the youngest of five kids. I grew up here in Michigan on the East side of the state and my earliest memory of a pet was when I was probably just three or four years old. We've always had dogs when I was growing up but, I remember climbing on the couch as just a toddler curling up with my little blankie and my little dog Peppy. A little Manchester terrier who always curled up right next to me. I couldn't take my nap without my dog.

Shelley Irwin: Of course, I asked that because of your present occupation which we will get to. So, expand on your childhood and how you began to find this human service connection as a potential journey.

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Yeah. For sure. So, growing up I had a really pretty, you know, normal childhood in the 60's. It was about the early 1970's when my parents were divorced, which was a little unusual at that point in time and so I watched my mom have to go back to work. You know, as a young girl, I watched her go back to work and really work hard to provide for the five kids that were here that were in my family and so for me, that kind of set the stage even as a young girl. I became so interested in social justice, I was always rooting for the underdog in life. Maybe I related to that a little bit. So, it was really a very easy transition as I was graduating from high school and heading off to college that I knew I wanted to do something where I could take that passion for social justice and make a career out of that.

Shelley Irwin: What was your first professional job?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Well, like so many high schoolers and college students. I worked in food service, I worked in nursing homes but, my first professional job out of college I worked as a crime prevention and community organizer for the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association and that was back in the early 1980's. It was a fantastic first job because it exposed me to so many issues in our community issues around housing, and zoning, and crime, and neighborhoods, and the work I did was to bring those neighbors, those disenfranchised neighbors together and help them figure out how as a collective body, they could have more power with affecting change for their neighborhoods.

Shelley Irwin: Which is still going on today.

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: It is still going on today.

Shelley Irwin: A big part of your life was with the Women Resource Center. Give me a highlight here.

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: So, after I left the Neighborhood Association I worked for about 7 years in community re-entry work, working with men and women coming out of jail and prison but, then after that I made the transition over to Women's Resource Center and I was there for 24 years as the executive director. I loved and still love the mission of that organization to really help empower women, particularly women who are in a life transition and again, I could relate to that so personally from the experiences that my mom went through after her divorce. So, that was a wonderful platform where it's like I said, with, you know, women in transition. I worked with so many great volunteers, board members and staff members over the years who, you know, are still treasured friends and colleagues of mine.

Shelley Irwin: Yes, and yet life is far from over. You’re heading up C-SNIP the organization. What's this all about?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Yeah. So, after 24 years I knew I wanted to do at least one more thing in my career. I wanted to make a change but, I knew I wanted to stay in the nonprofit sector. That's just so near and dear to my heart. So, you know, it's just kind of keeping my eyes and ears open. I wasn't actively searching at that time and somebody told me about the executive director role opening up at C-SNIP. Well, I was familiar with that organization from the way back when it was just really a concept and opening up as a new nonprofit, a mobile spay neuter clinic, if you will but I also had this strong passion and love for animals that I've had since I was just that little three/four year-old girl. So I thought, you know, this would be a great way to combine my passion for social justice, human services and access to resources with my love for animals. So, I threw my hat in the ring and the board selected me and that was about 6 years ago.

Shelley Irwin: Sharon, running a nonprofit is different than running a for-profit. Would you say?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Absolutely and I have never run a for profit organization. I've spent my entire career in the nonprofit. So, I don't have that personal direct comparison but, I can tell you running a nonprofit is every bit as serious if not even more so than a for profit business in my opinion. It's a lot of hard work, you've got many people in the community counting on your organization to meet their needs. Whether in our case, those needs are providing that veterinary care for the furry family members that they have in their households or whether it's providing, you know, employment assistance for people who are unemployed. The work of the nonprofit community is so critically important but, at the same time, it is a business. We have payroll that we have to cover, we have building maintenance, we have all kinds of the same expenses that there are in for-profit businesses and so it's our role as the leaders to make sure that the organization not only is meeting its mission in the community but, is sustainable and is in plain good business practices and being good stewards of the community’s donations and grants.

Shelley Irwin: How would you tell a young woman to find her passion if she wanted to go into the nonprofit world. What's the secret?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: I think there's no real secret. I think my advice would be to explore. Explore and try out as a young person get involved with you know, if you have a passion around animals, see if you can volunteer at an organization like a shelter or C-SNIP, if you have a passion for some form of human services find an organization that kind of fits in your wheelhouse, contact them. See if you can volunteer see if you can do an internship. I think it's just as important to try things out and find out what isn't a fit for you as much as it is to find out where, you know, where your passions really lie and that if you follow your passion, I think you'll always find success.

Shelley Irwin: Right, as you are demonstrating. A couple fun facts before we head back to the serious side of things. Why flower gardening for you?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Yeah. Oh, I love flowers. For me, flower gardening is like there's a lot of life lessons in flower gardening. I mean, we've all heard the expression, you know, take time to smell the flowers and when your flower gardening, you really do but, it is so important in our busy lives to take a few minutes just to stop and smell the flowers. Enjoy the beauty that's all around us that we often forget in our hectic pace. So that's, you know, that's the number one and then I think the other life lesson that comes out of flower gardening is that you plant a seed, it's not always an immediate blossom. It takes care, it takes nurturing to bring that plant not only to life but, to bloom and so I can I see that when I garden and I grow my flowers and that’s something that I carry with me in life. Those lessons translate.

Shelley Irwin: Fifth of five. Were you spoiled? What’s the trait you take from that?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Well my older siblings would tell you, yes, I was spoiled. I prefer to think no, I was not. I think by the time my mom got to me number five, she was just tired of trying to enforce all the rules so, she did relax a little bit for me but no, my siblings would say I was spoiled but, I think it was just, you know, it was just my time.

Shelley Irwin: And it's time for your mom to have just turned 98 what's the secret to her success?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Oh, my gosh, I think again, she just you know, she worked hard. She lived a good life, I don't know. I hope I get that little secret or that longevity gene but, no she just celebrated 98 years.

Shelley Irwin: Why Wonder Woman?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Well Wonder Woman is all about truth, justice, and you know, social change and so to me, those are the values I always held so near and dear to my heart. So, why not be a Wonder Woman?

Shelley Irwin: And that advice to that client of yours that brings in the kitty that not advocating for or against but, taking care of your animals? How important is this?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: It's so important. The human animal bond mean so much to so many of us. It's what helps sustain us through difficult times in life and so just like you would with anybody that you love and care for. You want to ensure that your pet has access to the routine and treatment care that it needs throughout its lifetime. That’s why CSNIP exists is to really help people get access to that care for their dogs or their cat even if they can't afford that on the private sector open market.

Shelley Irwin: Anything you'd say to a young Sharon Caldwell-Newton?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: I’d just say persistence and keep on keeping on.

Shelley Irwin: Yes, are you reading a book now?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Actually, I am a part of the book club and I haven't got my new book yet. So, stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted.

Shelley Irwin: Yes. Is there a motto you’d like to leave us with?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Again, I would just say follow your dreams, follow your passions. I think if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.

Shelley Irwin: Nice and you are certainly practicing what you preach. Alright, inside joke, have you gotten the goat yet?

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Haha not yet. I'm working on it, that's one of the bucket list items. Someday I’ll own a little herd of goats.

Shelley Irwin: Good and you will. Sharon Caldwell-Newton, thank you for this edition of Powerful Women, Let’s Talk.

Sharon Caldwell-Newton: Thank you so much.


>> Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and 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.org or wherever you get your podcasts. 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 on 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 WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.
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