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A Lifetime of Helping Others

Sherry Thomas-CloudSherry Thomas-Cloud, LMSW (B.S.’77, Sociology; M.S.W.’90) has had a long and impactful career doing what she says she is most proud of, “… always keeping my focus on improving life circumstances for the most vulnerable children, individuals, and families one on one or at an agency leadership level”. Her work as a social worker has also led to community partnerships that have created or expanded services for those vulnerable populations.

Recently, that work was celebrated with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Social Workers, Michigan Chapter. Sherry was selected for demonstrating repeated outstanding achievements, being recognized beyond the social work profession, for contributions that will have a lasting impact, and for exemplifying outstanding creativity.

Over the years, she’s applied her care and knowledge doing a variety of work at the state and local levels.

Sherry began her career in corrections and mental health before moving to the Department of Human Services in the areas of employment & training, foster care, prevention, and children’s protective services. She was promoted to a newly developed unit that served adults and provided community-based services. Later she was selected as the Director of Kalamazoo County Department of Human Services. Prior to this position, Sherry was Director of Head Start and School Readiness for Kalamazoo County where she served 632 children.  She’s worked as the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Dependence- Michigan Director, the Douglass Community Association Director, Poverty Reduction Interim Director, and currently serves as Family & Children Services CEO. Family & Children Services is a regional human services agency that provides child Welfare, prevention, residential and crisis services to children, Individual and families.

Additionally, she’s helped the next generation of social workers by sharing her experience and expertise as an adjunct faculty member and field placement instructor in the WMU College of Health and Human Services.

“All these positions allowed me to be able to use creativity, advocacy, and build partnerships. Many of these partnerships have developed programs that continue to this day,” Sherry said.

Sherry’s original interest in social work began while she was in high school, and later helped guide her decision to study sociology and criminology at WMU.

“As a first-generation student attending college and being raised in a small rural town, I was not exposed to many professions. I literally had no clue what to pursue at the university. I did have a favorite teacher in High School named Mr. Lutz who taught sociology and I found it interesting. I also had an older brother that was in law enforcement and thought maybe I would study Criminology/Sociology with the idea to later pursue a law degree.”

As a student at WMU, Sherry received numerous scholarships for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, something she says was immensely helpful in completing her educational journey.

But her education was enhanced by more than just financial support. Sherry said one of the most impactful experiences was seeing a black man as a professor at the university level.

“Dr. Lewis Walker became a mentor and friend to me. My parents did not finish high school because of many barriers, so there were no professional role models that I was exposed to that were people of color in my small community,” Sherry said.  “As a young Black student, this was huge for me to experience. My friendship with Dr. Walker has continued to guide me to this day. As a result, I have also mentored students and young professionals throughout my career both formally and informally in my various leadership roles.”

That experience prompts Sherry’s advice for current students to find mentors not just as students, but throughout their careers. She also encourages students to enjoy their time at WMU but to prepare for their futures, and to get to know people who have different lived experiences.

“It will expand your worldview and will make you a more knowledgeable and interesting person.”

Lastly, she said, give back to your community through volunteering.  

“When we give back to the community through volunteering, we often get back more than we give from the experience. One of my first experiences was on the board of the Head Start policy council in Kalamazoo. I had never served on a board before. I was asked to serve on the finance and personnel committees,” Sherry said. “I knew nothing about either. The experience I gained helped to prepare me for my first promotion as a supervisor. I came into supervision already understanding things that my peers had not been exposed to.”