Inside Track and Nonprofits

Committed to bringing resources and kids together

August 27, 2012
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After she graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis on psychology and economics, Cheryl Schuch spent the first two decades of her professional life in the computer industry.

But then, in late 2009, Schuch became the executive director of Family Promise, a nonprofit that works to keep income-starved families together who are on the verge of breaking up. The group provides emergency shelter for families with children who are in need, with the goal of finding them permanent housing.

The work is done through a network of churches and 1,600 volunteers. Family Promise, which has been around for 15 years, is part of a national organization that has 182 chapters.

“It’s such a unique organization, and I think the thing that connected me to it was it was focusing on the kids and the next generation of these families that we get to work with and we’re so privileged to engage with. But it was also the epitome of community and collaboration it has that impressed me,” she said.

Long before she came to Family Promise, Schuch said she found a good friend and mentor early in her computer career who instilled in her a philosophy by which she has lived and grown. Keith Schaffer was then the CEO of the Chicago office of NEC Technologies, a worldwide tech firm based in Tokyo. She worked in the company’s marketing and sales sector.

“He took a chance on me at a very young age. But he also taught me that if you learn how to be a good leader and you understand how to develop a really strong and compassionate supportive culture, almost all of the goals your organization has or you have personally can become reality,” she said.

“It’s about really developing and fostering the leadership and the culture, and I learned that at a very young age. And it has served me well in everything I’ve become engaged in, both from a volunteer perspective through our church and the kids’ schools and volunteer organizations in the community, and also through the work I’ve done in my employment.”

Cheryl Schuch

Organization: Family Promises
Title: Executive Director
Age: 48
Birthplace: Detroit
Residence: Cascade Township
Family: Husband, Dean; children Andrew and Erica
Business/Community Organizations: Coalition to End Homelessness and the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project.
Biggest Career Break: Shortly after college, the CEO in the Chicago office of a worldwide high-tech firm took her under his wing and gave her the insight to be a leader.

Part of that employment picture included a stint in Silicon Valley where she worked for Visionary Inc. A few years after she joined the young firm, the company went public. “I got to experience the start-up thing and entrepreneurship of that and then taking the company public. It was quite exciting.”

How did Schuch happen to move from the high-tech realm to the nonprofit world? She credited her father, Danny Thompson.

“You can blame my dad for that, I’m pretty sure. My mom was a teacher and my dad dedicated his whole life to social work. So when you’re in high school, you’re pretty sure you’re not going to do what your parents did. So I went in the complete other direction. But as I kind of grew and matured and started to become more engaged in my community, we wanted to come back to West Michigan after being in Chicago for 16 years and wanted to raise our family there,” she said.

“You know, there is more to life than making money and making a stock successful. I really felt a calling, both professionally and personally in my faith, to help others in a different way, and specifically kids. So at that point, I decided I was going to make a career change.”

It was 2002 when she began her new career here with Kids’ Food Basket, then a little-known organization she helped grow into one of the most noteworthy nonprofits around. “My dad served on many boards and was very engaged in the nonprofit sector my whole life. I saw that, and he was a great role model,” she said. “I saw the difference that he made, and that was something I wanted to do.”

Schuch was born in Detroit but moved to the Chicago area when her father enrolled at the University of Chicago to earn his degree in social work. After elementary school, she moved to Kalamazoo when her dad began teaching social work in the master’s program at Western Michigan University.

“So I went through junior high and high school in Kalamazoo and just fell in love with West Michigan,” she said. Her mother, Shirley, taught at the elementary level. Both of her parents now are retired. “There was a big focus on education and a huge focus on children in our family.”

Schuch was born in late December, just before Christmas. “Close enough that it almost got lumped together,” she said, laughing. “It’s true. People wrap your birthday presents in Christmas paper and you get the ‘Happy Christmas’ birthday card. And all your friends are gone to their grandma’s house when you want to have your birthday party.”

Cheryl and Dean celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary a few months ago. Dean is part of the neuroscience sales team at Medtronic, a well-known developer and manufacturer of surgical tools, pacemakers and a host of other medical devices. When they lived in Chicago, Dean worked for Upjohn Pharmaceuticals.

They live in Cascade Township and have two children, Andrew and Erica. Andrew just turned 21 and is a junior at Purdue University where he is studying engineering. Erica is 17 and is in her final year of high school. “We’re super-proud of them,” she said.

Cheryl said she met Dean when her relatives introduced her to him while she was working at the U- M Alumni Camp in the Petoskey area, where he was raised.

“We got to spend a couple of summers up in that beautiful part of the state. He went to Central (Michigan University) so we had a lot of commuting in our relationship. We ended up getting married and started the first part of our marriage in Chicago,” she said.

Schuch volunteers her time at the Coalition to End Homelessness and with the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project, two worthy causes.

“I feel like both of them have a focus on collaboration. When I became engaged with Family Promise, I did so because I felt it was really important. I have a passion for kids and that our next generation is what it’s all about. And I firmly believe that it takes a village,” she said.

“So both HCP and the coalition are trying to bring people together, trying to bring resources together to put the most creative and entrepreneurial and innovative ideas out there. So we are trying to keep up and move fast enough to really have an impact. I like the focus of and the collaboration of both of those organizations.”

In her spare time, Schuch travels and is an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction. She favors fiction with a historical element. She also likes to rides horses, and she and Dean own and care for three. “I love to be at the barn and love to ride,” she said.

As for the immediate future, Schuch said she is preparing to become an empty nester with Erica in her last year of high school.

“That’s going to be a big transition for us. But we’re looking forward to some of the excitement that it brings and to the next phase for our kids, too,” she said.

“Professionally, I’m going to be here at Family Promise. I’m really committed. We’ve gone through an amazing transformation in the last two-and-a-half years, but we’ve still got a little bit of work to do that I want to make sure we complete. So you’ll find me sitting here at this desk.”

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