Give With Your Heart
The life of Sherri Lennarson, MAS, is woven from her volunteer experiences. Lennarson recalls an early experience that helped her learn she had something to share with the world. “I remember I was captain of the patrol in sixth grade. I still have my patrol badge. I’ve had it converted and I wear it on a charm bracelet. That experience taught me responsibility and accountability, and a desire to protect and serve others,” she says.
PPAI presented Lennarson with the PPAI Distinguished Service Award at the Chairman’s Leadership dinner during The PPAI Expo in January. The award is presented annually to PPAI members who consistently contribute their skills and expertise toward the betterment of the Association. Through volunteer service or by offering their leadership to PPAI, these members generously give the benefit of their energy, time and talents to PPAI.
The desire to serve others has been fulfilled by volunteering for the promotional products industry and in her communities, says Lennarson. “Volunteering has always been more about how I can help my industry. I think where our business has benefited is that, when you volunteer, you have a diverse segment of people within the industry, and not only do you talk about group-specific issues but you also find out about community trends,” she says. “In our community, even though we are colleagues and competitors we are willing to share our knowledge, and we’re all smarter.”
As a PPAI member, Lennarson says she has been able to benefit from the service of others. “One of my favorite volunteer memories was my first [PPAI] board activity. They had a wonderful function in a home, so it was very intimate and I really remember the warmth.
“I also remember going to Promotions East [now Expo East] for the first time and [the late] Janelle Nevins happened to be waiting in the airport. She was in the senior class my first year [on the PPAI board of directors]. She was just exquisite at preparation for a board meeting. She had two bags full of binders and board info. She sat with me in the airport as we waited for the shuttle. Her generosity of spirit and time and the way she gave back was just incredible,” she recalls.
While president of Iowa City, Iowa, distributor Bankers Advertising (UPIC: BACADV), one of Lennarson’s treasured opportunities was sharing the promotional products business with local youth through Junior Achievement. “I have a real soft spot for kids,” she says. “I think we can teach kids about business in particular and, selfishly, it allowed me to introduce a lot of kids to promotional products.”
Local schools are one particular area of interest for Lennarson, as much because of her background in elementary education as the chance to show students how their professional dreams can be realized through working in promotional products.
“I think that we can develop relationships with local school districts; I think high school students in particular are starting to look at what kind of profession they’re going to pursue. To have a sense of how you promote and how you market, we could bring some really creative energy to the classroom,” she says.
“The more practical knowledge students can have, I think that’s a really great place for our people to plug in. To succeed in this business you’ve got to be attentive to detail, you need to be creative, you’ve got to have a sense of urgency and you need to be able to build relationships. I think it’s really important people remember what an impact they have on those organizations.”
At January’s award ceremony, Lennarson asked the audience of industry peers to promise they would advocate for the industry and encourage others.
On advocacy, she says: “My year as chair was driven by a simple quote from Albert Schweitzer, ‘Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.’ Adopt a Tom Sawyer management style—influence others to paint the fence. The importance of being informed and engaged in the legislative process is crucial to our industry’s continued health and well-being. Do as I did and get out of your comfort zone until advocating becomes second nature.”
On encouragement, she says, “For years I kept a “feel good file,” and I still have the simple, yet direct, handwritten note from Bill [Bywater] that said, “Job well done.” No doubt that note spurred me on to many late nights managing a very large calendar co-op program before computers made it much easier. … My dearly beloved husband, John, is the wind beneath my wings. I credit his support and encouragement for the hours I freely spend volunteering.”
Through volunteering, Lennarson herself has learned from and been inspired by those with whom she developed relationships. “I thought back to my early Junior Achievement work and to the gal who was responsible for coordinating volunteers. I was really impressed by her tenacity, her persistence at working to get people involved in hundreds of classrooms. That’s a huge undertaking,” she says. “She was always on—anybody was a potential volunteer, from the president at a local bank to somebody who had been running a family business for generations.”
Lennarson now lives in Arizona, where she dedicates her time to organizations such as the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, her church and a neighborhood rehabilitation center.
“One of the most important things volunteering has taught me is the importance of having an open mind … listening to others, not only listening but seeking information from others,” she says. “I think there’s a real art to that. I think it helps you to see a bigger, broader world. We have a tendency to be somewhat insulated as human begins, so I think that’s another real benefit to volunteering.”
To encourage others to begin their volunteering journey, Lennarson passes along some valuable bits of wisdom. “I’ve learned that if you’re going to volunteer you really need to give with your heart. The other thing I’ve learned is you need to make a decision, you need to support it, then you have to be flexible. If it’s not working, what can you do to change it? What can you do to make it better?”
She urges people to look beyond their first inclinations for volunteer opportunities in order to grow as individuals. “With true growth we’re able to give more because we are stretching ourselves. Talk to other volunteers. What do you see as [your] biggest strengths? Seeking outside input can be really valuable.”
Above all, she says, “Start small—but start. That’s the most important thing.”
—Jen Alexander McCall