She helps others achieve homeownership: Meet the Maryland honoree for Women of the Year
By Olivia Minzola,
9 days ago
Sheri Ewing is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program launched in2022as a continuation ofWomen of the Century, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees atwomenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
Each time Sheri Ewing steps forward to bless a home, tears spring to her eyes.
As family services manager at Habitat for Humanity of Wicomico County, Ewing spends her days meeting with underprivileged individuals and families seeking homeownership. With her unfaltering assistance, between coordinating finances to repairing homes to make them livable, folks in need are given what she believes is the greatest gift: a well-built, affordable home to call their very own.
Ewing's favorite part of her job is delivering the special housewarming blessing to new homeowners. It's an emotional moment for everyone, she said.
"On this joyous day, we give you flowers, so your home may always know beauty," says Ewing, a basket brimming with gifts. "Bread, so your home may never know hunger. Salt, so your life may always have flavor. A candle, so your home will never know darkness. Sugar, so your life will always be sweet."
Ewing is responsible for interviewing and qualifying applicants for both the Homeowner program and the Neighborhood Revitalization initiative, which encompasses the Roof and Repair, Aging in Place, and Brush with Kindness programs.
She has also helped countless citizens who fell behind in their rent during the pandemic remain in their homes, keeping many children and families from becoming homeless.
Ewing, 59, has always delighted in the Eastern Shore and made the decision to move to Salisbury, Maryland, nearly 30 years ago. Now, she cannot imagine life anywhere else.
"This is home," the California native said.
Prior to working for Habitat for Humanity, Ewing worked as a saleswoman in the corporate world. She can recall feeling dissatisfied with her job and longing for a more meaningful career.
"I wanted to do something else, but changing careers could be scary," she said. "I wanted to help. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me, and Habitat for Humanity's mission matches my values."
She joined Habitat for Humanity of Wicomico County in July 2019. Since then, she hasn't looked back.
"It's been a ride," Ewing said with a smile.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I would say Molly Hilligoss, my friend, colleague and boss — she paved the way for me.
As far as who I’ve helped pave the way for, we've had some great people come through here. I can think of Blondine; we hired her as our Haitian interpreter. She has since moved on to a great job at TidalHealth in Salisbury. She was young, smart and just fun. I like to feel like I was part of her life.
Then there’s other people like Anna Maria; she came as a volunteer first, and then we ended up hiring her for the EREP Program. We also hired a Spanish interpreter, Rosa, and she's stayed on part-time.
They would all call me Mom. I just love kids, especially young adults. They’re all just trying to find themselves and find out what they're passionate about. Paving the way for them is a great feeling.
Anytime that we're able to help someone is a proud moment for me. Knowing we’ve helped to stabilize a family or sell a home means that we've made an impact not only on that family but their future. There's nothing like it.
My lowest moment occurred when I was trying to help this one woman with the USDA 504 grant loan. This poor woman was known by about five or six different names, and all her paperwork had different names listed. USDA wouldn’t accept her ID because it wouldn’t show up even though she had been there forever.
That was really tough, not being able to figure out how to fix that for her and having to walk away. I think anytime we must walk away from someone is a low point for me, especially when I know they need that help so much. We can’t be everything to everybody. I just help one family at a time. I just take it one day at a time.
My definition of courage is moving forward. Just when things don't look like they're going to go well, you just keep moving forward. I'm a fix-it person. People who can think through a crisis and move forward — to me, that takes courage. Courage isn’t just that person who dives in after the kid who's in the ocean. Sometimes, for some people, just getting up takes courage.
One day at a time. When things aren’t going right, I'm really good about refocusing. Sometimes I have to be pulled off the ledge. But I’ll say to myself, “If it's not going to work that way, let's try this.”
Being able to think through a situation is important. When I'm sitting with somebody and they're telling me their story, I'm listening and I'm there but I'm also thinking, “Alright what can we do to help the situation?” Sometimes you have to think outside the box, explore all the options, look for things that aren't immediately apparent.
When you let the stress kill everything, it weighs so heavy. I meet people all the time who are so focused on the negative, on the crisis they’re facing, that the solution escapes them. But that's why there are social workers and organizations to help people work through those problems.
If you’re so focused on the negative, you just have to focus on the positive. Always count your blessings because all you have to do is look around and you'll realize how blessed you are. I know I'm blessed.
I would say my father. He never graduated high school but started his own business. He was self-taught, an avid reader, very wise, and taught me work ethic. He’s always been there for any of his children.
I have my father’s drive and my mother’s compassion. She was a woman who never talked bad about anyone. She was a real lady — incredibly kind and a good person.
I also admire Molly for her dedication to this organization and the fact that I work with her, not for her. I come from a different generation. As great as my father was, he wanted me to go to college so I could meet the right man to marry. That's his generation. So that's how I viewed things for a long time.
The other person who's had a lot of impact on me is my son, Kevin. He’s 35 and has Down syndrome. Kevin is the happiest person in the world.
When he was young, he was very sickly and I had to learn to become his advocate. I always tell people that the good Lord gave me Kevin so that I would grow a backbone. I was 23 when he was born and had to be his everything. He definitely helped me grow as a person.
When you're young, everything is a huge mountain. As you get older, you realize that those mountains aren't as big as you thought they were. You just have to start climbing. It's one step at a time in just about everything you do.
When you’re young, everything is a huge mountain. As you get older, you realize that those mountains aren’t as big as you thought they were.You just have to start climbing. It’s one step at a time in just about everything you do.
Don't be scared. Don't be scared to try new things. Don't be scared to take chances. Don't let fear hold you back. If anything has held me back, it's always been fear of the unknown, not necessarily failure but just the unknown.
I love my current job. When I read the job description, I had no clue what I was in for, but it's been a learning experience and very rewarding.
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