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In service to women and girls

Cheri Fleming assumes new leadership role in Soroptimist International of the Americas

Posted: July 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Fleming displays a traditional Filipino gown she received while attending a Soroptimist International conference in Bacolod City, Philippines. Photo by Jonathan Pobre/The Signal.

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Cheri Fleming, dealer principal and co-owner of Valencia Acura, is a familiar face around the Santa Clarita Valley.

In addition to gracing billboards around town with husband Don promoting the auto dealership, Fleming is known for her tireless work with the SCV’s biggest nonprofits including the Boys & Girls Club of SCV, Child & Family Center and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital — among many others.

However, the SCV has been seeing less of Fleming lately since she was elected president of Soroptimist International of the Americas.

Fleming was installed on June 22 as president after serving last year as president-elect.

She will officially take over the reins of leadership on Sept. 1.

Soroptimist International of the Americas is one of four federations that comprise Soroptimist International, a global organization of business and executive women who work to improve the lives of women and girls.

The Santa Clarita Valley is home to two Soroptimist Clubs, Soroptimist International of the Santa Clarita Valley and Soroptimist International of Greater Santa Clarita Valley.

The SCV clubs are members of the Camino Real Region.

Fleming heads up a federation of 19 countries and territories comprising North and South America and the Pacific rim — Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines.

There are more than 1,300 clubs in Soroptimist International of the Americas with more than 35,000 members.

"This makes us a global federation on our own," said Fleming. "It is an amazingly diverse group of women and cultures."

Fleming said she is excited to be leading such a dynamic organization of women.

"It is such an honor and a terrific leadership opportunity," she said. "I will tell you it does give me sweaty palms. It’s one thing to get up and speak in your own town, or to chair a local event. It’s a totally different experience to serve at this level."

Fleming said her world travels have given her new perspective on how each regions has unique problems.

"It is incredible to see how we are all working together to advance the social and economic status of women and girls," she said.

"In Africa there are places where women have to walk all day just to get water," she said. "Clean, accessible water is a huge issue in many places in the world. Things we take for granted are problems in other parts of the world."

Among the new skills Fleming has acquired is the ability to pace her speech so that it can be translated into six different languages during board meetings and events.

Spring is a busy time for Fleming because Soroptimists host annual spring conferences throughout the world.

Fleming started with a local conference in Ventura, was home for three days, then traveled to Oakland followed by two weeks at home then off to a spring conference in the Philippines.

She was the Soroptimist International of the Americas "official visitor" at the Philippines Spring Conference in Bacolod City in late April.

"It was beautiful with wonderful people. That was one of the most amazing experiences of my life," she said. "The hospitality, the generosity of the people, the graciousness is something that I can never describe. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and I feel so fortunate to have been able to have this adventure."

Within the four federations of Soroptimist International are 28 regions.

Each region hosts a conference once a year and invites a member of the federation board of directors.

"We bring the message of Soroptimist International of the Americas to each conference," she said.

After returning home from the Philippines in early May Fleming then traveled to Philadelphia in June to assist in training the current crop of regional governors-elect.

Among them was Dora Zavala of Soroptimist International of Greater SCV — the current governor-elect of the Camino Real Region, a post once held by Fleming.

Philadelphia is the federation headquarters for Soroptimist International of the Americas.

Fleming was supported at her installation by more than 30 friends and family. Among the attendees at Fleming’s installation were many friends she had made through Soroptimist.

"It was such a wonderful surprise to see so many familiar faces and to know that they had come to spend that special night with me," she said.

Fleming’s family, husband Don, son Brian with wife Jennifer and grandchildren Bradley and Farrah also attended the Philadelphia installation.

While Fleming dealt with Soroptimist business her family went sightseeing.

"Little Farrah said, ‘I had a great time, I rode in a horse and buggy and saw the bell.’ That was the best take-away for me," Fleming said.

Fleming spent two weeks at home after Philadelphia. Then she jetted off to Berlin, Germany for the Soroptimist International of Europe Congress.

"It was an incredible meeting and Berlin is beautiful," she said. "The people are friendly, the food is wonderful and the history makes the hair on your arms stand up."

Fleming said to see where so much history happened, including standing near a section of the Berlin Wall, gave her "goose bumps."

However, serving as Soroptimist International of the Americas president isn’t just about travel and meeting new people.

There’s real work involved addressing the problems women and girls face in the world.

To continue the fundraising and other work of Soroptimist International the organization needs a robust roster of club members, said Fleming.

Membership is a continuing focus of Soroptimist International.

"As a service club organization we are constantly looking at membership. Women of our generation are getting older and younger women might not want to volunteer in the same way we did.," said Fleming. "While the need continues to increase, the number of women who want to volunteer and roll up their sleeves and get involved are becoming less."

Fleming said an emphasis on education and leadership are two of the tools to secure the future of Soroptimist International.

In addition, a new "girl" project is in the works that Fleming said will be launched next spring.

"I am very excited about it," she said. "We will be helping with mentoring and career development for young girls who don’t have that type of leadership in their lives."

Fleming said the Live Your Dream program will also continue.

Live Your Dream is a community that connects people online to do volunteer work offline that helps women and girls to live their dreams. Fleming said participants do not have to be a Soroptimist to participate in Live Your Dream.

"We’re trying to engage others in our mission," she said. "We want people that might not want to come to a club meeting, but still want to be involved. We’re working at increasing our collective impact."

Fleming said that despite all of her work with other nonprofits she chose to focus on Soroptimist because of its emphasis on women and girls.

"There are so many amazing causes in the Santa Clarita Valley, and I have been honored to be part of many of them, but as a woman I felt it was my duty to give back and help mentor another women or girl. I want to help other women to move forward in life.’

Fleming said one of the benefits of her work with Soroptimist is the number of friends she has made throughout the world because of Soroptimist International.

"I love the global aspect of Soroptimist. I feel like I have friends today from all over the world that would probably not be a part of my life if not for Soroptimist," she said.

For more information on Live Your Dream visit www.liveyourdream.org.

mbuttelman@signalscv.com

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