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Washington Voices

Rotary honors Swedo’s nurturing hand with teens

Thu., April 2, 2009

For Cheryl Swedo, hospitality specialist at the Spokane Skills Center, March 25 started as another busy day at work. She bustled around the dining room as she and her students prepared to host a lunch for the Hillyard Rotary.

Twice a month, Swedo and her students serve lunch to the club at the Northeast Community Center, but this time the Rotary was coming to them.

Ostensibly, the Hillyard Rotary chose to meet at the Skills Center to take a tour of the facility, but the club had another agenda. Members were honoring Swedo with a Paul Harris Fellow award, named after its founder. According to club president Beverly Rule, the award goes to “to someone in the community who steps up and demonstrates our motto: Service above Self.”

Jean Farmer, Rotary member and Northeast Community Center director, said, “As far as I know, this club has only bestowed this award twice.”

They chose to honor Swedo because they’ve observed her commitment and dedication to her Skills Center students. Dedication that the staff at the center is well aware of. Gail Gwynn, office manager, said that when they interviewed Swedo for her position, “The first thing out of her mouth was, ‘I want this job because I love teenagers.’ ”

Her affection for students is obvious to the Hillyard Rotary.

“She’s always promoting the kids and their accomplishments,” said Rotary member and Shaw Middle School Principal Chris Lynch. “She’s passionate about her work.”

Nick Poletto, a Mt. Spokane High School senior, said Swedo “bends over backward for her students.” Poletto’s in his second year of the Culinary Arts and Hospitality program at the Skills Center, where Swedo teaches students how to serve a perfectly brewed latte, wait on tables, run a cash register and arrange place settings.

“She knows everything about hospitality,” Poletto said of Swedo, who’s been a trainer for Starbucks. “She’s amazing!”

For the past few years, Swedo has taken a couple students each month to serve the Rotary luncheon at the Community Center. Farmer said Swedo helps the students practice their burgeoning vocational skills. “They wear their jackets and hats when they serve,” she said. “And when the group applauds them at the end of the meal, you can see how much they appreciate the affirmation. Without Cheryl, they wouldn’t get that kind of recognition.”

For Farmer and the rest of the club, honoring Swedo for her service made perfect sense. “She’s just a radiant person,” Farmer said. “She’s always got that beautiful smile.”

Indeed, her trademark smile shone through her tears on March 25 when the Rotary gave her the award, along with a standing ovation. It was quite a surprise to the self-effacing Swedo.

“I was in shock,” she said after the event. “I had no idea. It was so amazing!”

Tears filled her eyes again as she recalled the presentation of the Paul Harris award. “They said it’s because of my interaction with the kids,” she said. “But I don’t do anything that everyone else in this building doesn’t do.” Then she admitted with a chuckle, “I’m one of those rare adults who likes teenagers. I think they’re interesting.”

Her interest and involvement with the young people at the Skills Center has made a lasting impression on the Hillyard Rotary. “She’s an advocate for these kids and a positive role model,” Lynch said. “She epitomizes the need to appreciate that little things in life can make a big difference.”

Cindy Hval can be reached at

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