Susan Shore Schwartz’s job involves planting seeds, whether they be in the form of getting a child to read at an appropriate grade-level, or attracting new audiences to the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.
And if those seeds are well-tended, they will bear fruit for a long time.
“That’s really the name of the game,” she said. “For example, if we can build a system (to improve reading proficiency), then we’ll have more children who will graduate from high school and will have the skill sets they need to be successful. And that will benefit people forever. And it will benefit not only those individuals, but their families, our community.”
Schwartz is perhaps best known these days as the executive director of the Cemala Foundation, a Greensboro-based nonprofit organization focused on early childhood education, community development and job training, among other issues. She has been in the role since 2006.
But the other titles she has worn over the years are many — including executive director of Action Greensboro, board chair of the Greensboro Children’s Museum and chair of the board of visitors at UNCG.
And this year she has been named the News & Record Woman of the Year.
“Susan is a very motivated individual,” said Robin Britt, a former congressman and chief executive officer of Guilford Child Development, who worked with Schwartz on the Ready for School, Ready for Life early childhood development initiative. “She drills down to learn what a process should look like. She values input from others. Some people can talk about a vision. Some can make it happen. Susan is one of those people who see the vision and know what should be done to make it happen.”
Schwartz, who grew up in Winston-Salem, said she was interested in serving the community from a young age, and in middle school worked as a candy striper at a local hospital. In 1987, she took a job working on Greensboro Visions, a public-private partnership involved in strategic planning, and several years later became a co-director of Piedmont Triad Horizons, known today as the Piedmont Triad Partnership. After a six-year interlude in New Jersey, where she worked for a nonprofit community development group, she came back to North Carolina, and in 2001 went to work for Action Greensboro. She stayed there until she became executive director at Cemala.
In the years since, she has been involved with a number of other community and nonprofit organizations, such as the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, GreenHill Center for North Carolina Art and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.
While serving on the Greensboro Children’s Museum board, she helped bring about an expansion of the museum that resulted in the outdoor play plaza, as well as the water features inside.
“Susan has really been such an advocate for children,” said Marian King, the museum’s chief executive officer. “And that so aligns with what we try to do here. We’re about child development in a hands-on, exploratory way. And she really does work tirelessly to put the resources in place to help us provide these sorts of experiences and opportunities for all children in the community.”
Schwartz said Cemala’s work on early childhood development has been both the hardest and most rewarding of her career.
“We want to get to parents as early as possible and give them the right advice that they need,” she said. “Eighty percent of brain growth occurs by the time the child is 3, so everything you do in those early, early years in terms of communicating with your child is just critical for their brain to be functioning the best it can be by the time they get to kindergarten.”
Among the more ambitious initiatives in which Cemala has engaged in recent years is Ready for School, Ready for Life, which began in 2015 and provides support for providers of prekindergarten care and education. The goal, Britt said, is to “establish a continuum of services” for children up through their first few years of elementary school.
“There really hasn’t been a system that has pulled all the providers and services in the community to provide a network that can, with the parents’ permission, share information about who’s getting what they need,” he said. “We’re looking to have collaboration around services to have a system that can be navigated easily by the parents.”
Schwartz said motivating other people to give their time is key to making a program like that a success.
“Really, that’s only possible because of so many other people who really care about young children,” she said. “The welfare of young children is a local topic, it’s a state topic, it’s a national topic. And locally we have many talented people working on this, and we have resources enabling us to do this work.”
And that work, she said, will pay dividends for many generations to come.
“I probably won’t live long enough to see the results of all this,” she said. “But, if it works, it will go on and on, and make a huge difference.”