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A global volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls
through programs leading to social and economic empowerment.

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Cheri_Fleming

Meet Cheri Fleming
2013-2014 SIA President

Cheri Fleming, SIA’s president, says that when she reads about or meets women like our Women’s Opportunity recipients, she realizes how very fortunate she is to have had such a normal childhood and life. Cheri and her sister grew up in Ohio with loving parents who instilled wonderful mid-western values in both daughters and always encouraged them to live their dreams. “Life wasn’t fancy and we certainly weren’t rich, but I always felt loved and life was very normal,” states Cheri.

Cheri’s father was a banking executive and her mother was a legal secretary and avid volunteer. After college, Cheri moved to California and began working at a Savings & Loan in downtown Los Angeles. She enjoyed her job, was fortunate to be promoted quickly and realized just how much she loved working with people.

When Cheri met her husband, Don, he encouraged her entrepreneurial spirit. Together they’ve owned various businesses; however, in 1985 the car business really captivated them. In 1997, they had the opportunity to purchase Valencia Acura, which was an underperforming car dealership and dead last in every category—sales, service and customer satisfaction. With a definite challenge before them, Cheri and Don decided they would try a totally different approach and embrace change in this very male-dominated business by adding a woman’s perspective with Cheri as the dealer principal and president.

Cheri_don

Cheri and her husband, Don, display a plaque Valencia Acura received for 15 years of successful business.

Over the past 16 years, Valencia Acura has transformed from a gross underperformer to one of the top independent Acura dealerships in the United States. In addition to the many business experiences and challenges Valencia Acura has afforded Cheri, she has also given her a great opportunity to give back to the community. That’s how her involvement with Soroptimist started—someone invited Cheri to a club meeting and it’s been her passion ever since! She’s also had the opportunity to serve as a member of the board of directors for various non-profit organizations in her community and as chair of many of them including: the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation, the Child and Family Center Foundation, and the American Cancer Society Unit Council.

Additionally, Cheri has chaired many local fundraising events including her Soroptimist club’s Auction and Fashion Show, the Boys and Girls Club Benefit Auction, the Arthritis Foundation Walk, and Relay For Life.

Cheri_family
Cheri with her husband Don (far left), son Brian (second from right) and his wife Jennifer (center) holding granddaughter Farah, and grandson Bradley (far right).

Cheri and Don have three children and three grandchildren. Their son, Brian, and his family live in Valencia and he works at the dealership with them. They also have two dogs, Speed Bump (Bumper) and Test Drive (Tessi), who come to work every day as official greeters.

“I really enjoy working and volunteering,” says Cheri, “but I love sleepovers with the grandkids and spending time together in our pool.” In her spare time, Cheri likes to travel, read, and cook for family and friends, and says she truly feels fortunate to live and work in such a wonderful community.

“I am so honored to be serving as the 2013-2014 SIA president of our federation, “ she stated, “and I’m so grateful for the incredible Soroptimist friendships I’ve made throughout the world!

Best for Women asked Cheri to share her thoughts about the Soroptimist’s successes, challenges and our pathway to the future.

Meet President Cheri.

What first attracted you to Soroptimist?
I was initially attracted to Soroptimist because our local club is an integral part of my community and I was intrigued by the idea of women working together to help other women—not only locally, but globally. I’m a woman business owner and I feel that it’s my responsibility to help other women. The more I learned about “who we are” and” what we do,” the more engaged I was. I still vividly remember attending my first club awards ceremony where we honored our Women’s Opportunity Award recipients with cash awards and I had the privilege of meeting these amazing women of strength. There were boxes of tissue on the tables and I quickly understood why after hearing their compelling stories. That evening was my significant Soroptimist moment and convinced me of the relevance of our mission, which is perfectly reflected in our newly fine-tuned mission statement—to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. I’m so proud that at SIA, we have defined outcomes and measurable results of our programs. I have no doubt that our cornerstone program makes a significant difference!

Why has your involvement with Soroptimist continued, and how has Soroptimist membership affected your life?
My involvement in Soroptimist has continued because of our mission of helping women and girls, and our focus on education and leadership. Research shows that access to education is the best way to improve a woman’s socio‐economic status. While there are many wonderful non-profit organizations in my community, Soroptimist is something so much bigger–it’s a global organization improving the lives of women and girls in the 19 countries and territories that we serve. That’s powerful! Membership in Soroptimist is a gift; a gift we give to the women and girls we serve and a gift we give ourselves. As Soroptimists, we make a difference through our programs, make great lifelong friendships, have the opportunity to experience leadership opportunities in a safe environment, and have many opportunities to have fun, too! At our SIA convention in Taipei, Taiwan, a Soroptimist friend and member said to me: “I can’t ever image not being a Soroptimist. …”  I feel exactly that same way and together we must ensure that all of our members feel that way too.

What function, in your opinion, should volunteerism play in today’s world?
Volunteerism has an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of communities worldwide. On an individual basis, it’s a way to pay forward our good fortune and offers a way to have a real and lasting impact on the world. As an organization, we need to be sensitive to the changing ways that younger generations want to engage as volunteers. We need to make volunteering opportunities available that can fit into already too busy schedules and ensure that the traditional club experience is rewarding. I think Live Your Dream can be an integral part of creating new ways to volunteer.

Speaking of Live Your Dream, what are your thoughts about this new initiative, given the state of volunteer trends?
I think Live Your Dream is truly a super strategy ensuring the future growth of Soroptimist. It’s a way to engage everyone, including younger generations, in our mission. Increasing our supporters beyond club membership will increase our brand recognition, which will attract corporate sponsors and develop a new pool of donors to support SIA’s programs. Live Your Dream is a visionary and modern way to engage volunteers and take some of the burden off of the traditional club membership model. It can also be a way to engage new members to ultimately join our clubs and potentially charter new clubs. 

Why is it important that the organization’s focus be on women and girls?
Soroptimist loosely translated means best for women and that has always been the focus of our organization. Women and girls constantly have, and still do face, additional obstacles and discrimination based solely on their gender. As women, it’s our responsibility to work together to remove these obstacles, and improve social and economic conditions for women and girls.

What women-focused issue is particularly important to you, and why?
All women-focused issues are important to me, but gender equality is probably at the top of my list. I do think it’s imperative that women and girls have equal access to education so they have the opportunity to lead full and productive lives. Education is a core value of Soroptimist and empowers women and girls to take control of their lives and live their dreams. Our Women’s Opportunity Award program is the perfect example of this.

What are the most pressing organizational issues facing SIA, and what are your ideas to address them?
I feel that our most pressing organizational issue is embracing change in our 92 year-old organization. Membership in our organization is declining and while together we are removing the barriers to club membership, we must also appeal to younger generations. Live Your Dream is an integral step in this direction. As members and clubs, we must not only work on growing our traditional membership, we must work on engaging as many people in our mission as possible by supporting our online community. In addition, as clubs we must stop saying “yes” to every other local organization and believe in our own value by making Soroptimist our cause of choice. We must embrace a culture of philanthropy and financially support SIA’s programs. This will ensure our legacy by increasing our collective impact through our programs, creating greater recognition and leading to greater resources to achieve our vision of a world where women and girls have the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential and live their dreams.

How will you be helping to “shape the future” of Soroptimist?
I will help shape the future of Soroptimist by embracing the concept of increasing our collective impact and supporting our 2013-2014 Strategic Plan. The SIA board of directors has worked diligently and collaboratively to fine-tune our vision, mission, core values and strategic outcomes. I passionately believe in these decisions. Our economies have changed, our businesses have changed, and the face of volunteering has changed. As an organization we must truly focus our efforts and make Soroptimist our cause of choice—our cause of choice in the programs we support and our cause of choice in the philanthropic donations we make.

 

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