If you know Suzy Herrmann, you’re probably a volunteer, or she’s invited you to volunteer. Or pestered you.
During the 10 years since discovering virtually full-time charity, working in projects that round up food, clothing and other aid for struggling families, she’s become convinced that helping is addictive. Just try it, she urges. You might need counseling to quit.
“I understand, you need to take care of your family,” she says. “But come out and give back. It will bring you great joy. You’ll be helping others, and what’s better than that?”
Herrmann focuses most of her energy in her roles with two of the larger charities that serve mostly Mansfield school district students and their families. She’s on the executive board of Common Ground Network, a cooperative of local churches and civic groups that run food pantries, clothing-voucher programs and other services that directly help those families.
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And she’s vice president of Mansfield Cares, a charitable organization that raises funds to support the projects of those churches and other charities.
On Wednesdays this summer, Herrmann, a 51-year-old former Arlington special-education teacher and mother of two, is elbows deep into Common Ground’s eighth annual Feed the Kids for Summer, or “my big baby,” as she calls it. The group partners with the Mansfield Kiwanis Club for volunteer muscle.
Twice a day, she and dozens of volunteers meet at the First United Methodist Church gym to load boxes of food and bag five days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches and snacks for Mansfield students who rely on federally subsidized meals during the school year. Feed the Kids for Summer helps fill that gap in nutrition for the students.
“In 2007, counselors at MISD said we have a large number of kids during the summer that aren’t getting nutritious food,” says Herrmann, who co-chairs the program with Phil Stover. “When they come back in August, they’re sluggish; they’re not ready to learn.”
By summer’s end, she says the program, which started with 2,000 kid customers in 1998, will spend $55,000 in donations — some from Mansfield Cares — to serve 10,000 kids targeted by the program in 2014.
Two years ago, Common Ground began adding donated books to the meals and rewarding avid readers with little gifts.
“I love it,” Herrmann says. “You can just see how much you are helping all your kids, and their parents. They don’t have to worry because the kids in this program are getting nutrition.”
In addition to serving as vice president of Mansfield Cares, Herrmann serves on the executive board and “almost every committee” of Common Ground, says Teresa Sherwood, executive director of the Wesley Mission Center, another beacon of charity in Mansfield. “But she also participates in all of our other program areas — Christmas, school supplies. Those are exciting things, and Suzy just celebrates that in our community and wants to give herself to making that happen.”
Herrmann hails from Pecos, which lays claim to being home of the world’s first rodeo, she notes. It’s seen the boom and bust of the oil industry.
“With the natural gas now, I’ve heard it’s really growing,” she recalls. “But when I was growing up, it had less than 10,000 people. My dad was a veterinarian, and he was the only one for at least an hour and a half in any direction.”
She didn’t take to veterinary medicine, but she did follow her dad to his alma mater, Texas A&M University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education, with a minor in special education, and also met her future husband, Mansfield orthodontist Rick Herrmann.
She earned a master’s degree in deaf education from Texas Woman’s University, teaching in the Joshua and Arlington school districts before she and her husband moved to San Francisco for his orthodontics residency at the University of California. During their California stint, she got a job in the San Francisco school district teaching a language impairment class.
“We were poor as church mice, because we were living on my salary,” she says of their three years on the bay. “We were living in poverty, according to standards, but we didn’t know it. We didn’t care; we explored everything. It was fun — we didn’t have kids.”
Upon the couple’s return to Arlington in 1995, Suzy Herrmann resumed her teaching career in Arlington and Rick opened his orthodontics practice, which he later moved to Mansfield. Two years later, they decided she should quit teaching and start planning for a new assignment, being a stay-at-home mom.
“I thought that, if you can, it’s important to stay home with your baby,” she recalls. “I was lucky enough to do that.”
Long before it became a full-time passion, Hermann dabbled in volunteer work. “I’ve always done extra things, whether it be the Special Olympics or just helping out wherever I could,” she says.
In 2004, a friend talked her into joining Mansfield Cares and, in short order, she was immersed in community projects, which often put her in contact with members of the Common Ground Network. “I started going to their meetings, and I fell in love with them and everything they do for the people in Mansfield.”
“Mansfield Cares is like the safety net for things that happen in Mansfield,” she explains. “We give all our money away, whereas at Common Ground Network, we actually do this stuff.”
She’s not only good at giving money away, she’s also a good steward of it, adds Chuck Wilson, past president of Mansfield Care.
“She’s very logical,” he explains “In the nonprofit world, you don’t want to give money away frivolously. That’s why people keep coming back to Mansfield Cares — because they know when they give money, we’re responsible for it. ... That’s why she’s our person over benevolence (also a volunteer position).”
Herrmann also makes time for other opportunities to volunteer. Twice a week, she helps with the senior nutrition service Meals On Wheels, she serves as the volunteer coordinator for the Mansfield High School PTA and is a band booster club member at the school.
On the home front, she runs the Herrmann household, which includes keeping track of her two daughters, Emily, 17, and Sarah, 16, and she puts in 10 to 20 hours a month doing marketing work at her husband’s office.
“My friends who have full-time jobs say I work longer and harder than they do throughout the year,” Herrmann says with a good-natured laugh. “I have good friends, who come out and help me — because I’m recruiting them as well.”