Starting in this month’s edition, we profile a team member of the provincial BC CRN organization. Why? Because we believe that every person has a great story to share. Plus, we want to introduce some of the people who work at the provincial level to support Community Response Networks (CRNs) that help make our neighbourhoods safe places to be. This month, we kick off our series by introducing you to Sherry Baker, BC CRN’s executive director.
Sherry Baker has always been a woman on the move and ahead of her time. She is unstoppable: hip and knee replacement surgeries and a pandemic are minor inconveniences in her world. She has been the executive director of the BC CRN for 11 years, nurturing what was a fledging non-profit to a robust organization of 20+ contractors, and 80+ Community Response Networks (CRNs) serving over 230 BC communities. Accolades dot her resume, which spans a career of several decades.
You can read about some of Sherry’s most notable achievements in her online profile. What you won’t find in her professional profile is that she is also an extravert, a proud mother and grandmother, a pioneer, and a survivor of abuse. Now 82, she remains fiercely independent and continues to look for the next opportunity that excites her…even while she waits for the call to schedule her second knee replacement surgery.
The daughter of a WWII vet and a nurse, Sherry as a youngster knew she wanted to remain active, thriving, and independent. “My father died in the war, which left my mother to take care of my grandfather, my brother, and me. I knew whatever I did, I wanted to make sure I was able to take care of myself,” she says.
Holding firm to that principle, Sherry excelled academically, earning several university scholarships. “I really wanted to be a doctor,” she recalls. “But at that time, school counsellors told me that I ‘couldn’t take away that opportunity from a man’. It was a very different time.” Sherry earned a degree in home economics from the University of British Columbia (UBC). On the side, she took pre-med courses, just in case.
In the 1960s, Sherry and her family moved from their little house in North Vancouver to Chilliwack. While raising three young children, she taught dressmaking and launched an interior design consulting business. After running her business for 13 years, the opportunity to establish community access television on the local cablevision network in Chilliwack confirmed what she really wanted to do most: to work with communities and make them better places to live.
Once Chilliwack had its own community access television station, Sherry was invited to Chicago to assist the parent company to build community access into their cable franchising efforts. “It was so much fun,” she recalls.
In the 1980s, she ran in Chilliwack’s municipal election and won, making her the only woman on council at the time. She was also heavily involved in the local arts council, raising money to convert an old church to a 350-seat performing arts theatre and cultural centre. (In 2010, the city of Chilliwack opened a new cultural centre. Sherry was invited to participate in the grand opening.) She also earned a diploma in Business Administration at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Life took a turn in the 1990s. Sherry ran for mayor and was unsuccessful. At this time, her marriage dissolved and work was sparce. At the age of 52, Sherry went back to school to earn a Master’s degree in applied behaviour sciences and organizational development, a degree that complemented her experience working with communities. Shortly after completing her degree, she did some short stints providing consultations to community organizations and then became the executive director for Ishtar Transition Housing Society, a role that would move her from Chilliwack to Langley where she lives today. Sherry would remain as the executive director for Ishtar for 10 years.
When asked about how she first became involved with the BC CRN, Sherry says: “They posted a job for an executive director. I applied, and I got it.” Since joining the organization in 2010, Sherry’s skills in networking, spotting talent, and raising money helped the BC CRN secure a unique foothold in the area of supporting vulnerable adult populations.
“We were building a new kind of organization at the time,” she says. “Thanks to our contractors, CRNs, and volunteers, we still continue to grow and change. The dedication of our people and their commitment to the values of love, respect, kindness, and generosity have made BC CRN the ‘gold standard’ in provincial and national circles when it comes to adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect awareness and prevention.”
In addition to her work with the BC CRN and her involvement with several local, provincial, and national committees and advisory teams, Sherry also finds the time to keep in touch with her UBC classmates, her Chilliwack bridge club, and a variety of community boards and groups in her home community of Langley.
Sherry continues to buck the social stereotypes of seniors, and to squash the ageist and sexist preconceptions that reinforce them. When we asked her about her plans for the next ten years, Sherry says without a breath of hesitation: “Make me an offer.”
The interview ended with roaring laughter.
Sherry may be reached at email@example.com.