A Rising Tide: Sheila Dunn Interview

Born in Maryland, Sheila grew up in a family that highly valued education. After hitting the glass ceiling in the healthcare field, she started her own company, Quality America, Inc. Now retired, Sheila enjoys edible landscaping and looks down when she hikes so she can forage for mushrooms.

Kia: Sheila, when – and why – did you decide to get involved with Together Women Rise?

Sheila: I met a woman at a dance class who was a foodie like me, and I suggested we start a monthly group to try recipes from other countries. She responded, “I already do that!” and brought me to my first Dining for Women meeting. It was January 2014 and we learned about Catalyst Foundation, which addresses human trafficking. I consider myself pretty well informed, but I had no idea this was happening and was very moved by the presentation. It changed my life. Right after that I got some women together, hosted a fundraiser, and started my own chapter. That was almost 10 years ago, and we have about 7-8 of the original members still coming to meetings every month.  

Kia: You get very interested in the grantees we fund and often go beyond the resources we provide on our website. Can you tell us more about that?

Sheila: There are three reasons I do extra research. One is to create an emotional connection with the women featured in the grant. To really feel what it’s like for girls who may have to stop attending school at the onset of menstruation, for example. Second, I use statistics to compare our lives to the lives of women in the featured country. I need details for that, which I normally get from the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and sometimes the grantee’s website. Sometimes we notice similarities in our lives too, and that gets discussion going. Lastly, it’s a darn geography lesson. I am horribly deficient in geography, but with the extra research, I am a lot more informed. Engaging the audience and finding what they are interested in is important.  

Kia: Can you tell us about a challenge you’ve had with your chapter, and how you were able to overcome that challenge?

Sheila: We’ve had a couple over the years, but getting people to donate online used to be difficult. People would hand me cash at the end of a meeting or just forget to donate online afterwards. That is actually where the pandemic helped us. Since we only met via Zoom, people had to donate online and then quickly realized automatic payments were much easier. Now it’s common practice and almost everyone does it. 

Kia: What is a piece of advice you have for people considering stepping into volunteer leadership roles with Together Women Rise?

Sheila: I would encourage people to start a chapter because of the importance of building a community where you live. Living near Asheville, people move here all the time and don’t know anyone. I recently met a woman while I was hiking and invited her to join our chapter – you meet 20 new friends in one night! Women getting together and shooting the breeze, discussing gender equality, it creates such a genuine connection. It also really lifts the spirits. Regarding taking on a leadership position, I’m honest about the amount of work it takes. I made a detailed list of all it entails, which I shared with my co-leader. I’m also considering creating a small group to rotate duties on an annual basis. 

Kia: What are you most excited about for our 20th anniversary this year?

Sheila: For me the Transformation Partnerships have been a long time coming and I’m really happy to see us going after those root causes. I looked into Equimundo, for example, and love that they are teaching men about equality as well. That is exciting. I don’t know of another organization that is exactly like us, and I can really see the maturation over time.  

Kia: Outside of Together Women Rise, and leading your chapter, what is occupying your attention these days?

Sheila: I’m a volunteer energizer bunny, and most of my work these days is with the Center for Conscious Living and Dying – I’m an end-of-life doula. My intention this year is also to focus more on my spiritual life. The volunteering is the “doing” but the spiritual stuff is the “being.” We get judged on what we do, but everyone deserves to be appreciated for just being who they are. I’ve always been such a doer, and now I‘m exploring just being. I’ve started re-reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, among others. 

If you are interested in being featured on “A Rising Tide” or have a recommendation for a chapter or chapter leader who should be featured, please email kia@togetherwomenrise.org.