Friday, September 16, 2016

Paying it Forward: Cathy Bieberich - Mentor Extraordinare, a Volunteer Tribute by Monica Harris

If you ask people about SCBWI Michigan volunteer, Cathy Bieberich, several things might be mentioned. Her boisterous laugh and wickedly sharp sense of humor might be first. Her diligent work ethic would certainly be high on the list. A few members may even reminisce (with chuckles) about her karaoke skills and interpretive dance prowess.

While these are just a few of her sparkling wonders, one of Cathy’s biggest accomplishments as a SCBWI volunteer is the strong mentorship program. Sadly, Cathy is stepping down (or should I say retiring) from her Mentorship Coordinator position; a position she has held for 9 years. Her personal journey actually began when Cathy won the novel mentorship in 2002 with Audrey Couloumbis. At the end of their mentorship session, the two remained close friends and shared their writing. When Audrey had another book published, Cathy was humbled to find her name included in the dedications. Filled with gratitude from the entire experience, Cathy choose to give back in the best way she knew…to expand, strengthen, and coordinate the mentorship program.

Even while working full time, Cathy made sure to put together an outstanding program.  She devotedly located and secured mentors.  While this may sound easy, it is not. Many writers and illustrators are busy with their own careers so it would often involve a little ‘pay it forward’ coaxing on Cathy’s part.  After that, capable judges were secretly contacted (again, sometimes needing a bit of coaxing).  Once submissions rolled in, Cathy coordinated every detail including sorting and coordinating the submissions, making sure the judges received their copies (either by mail or electronically), and then tabulating the results for the mentor.  A tedious job, to say the least, but Cathy embraced it with the excitement of a 2-year old being handed a Labrador puppy!  It was a time of thankfulness and generosity, which Cathy juggled like a three-ringed circus professional.

While I can certainly dwell on how much we’ll miss Cathy’s hard work, I know with certainty that her presence will continue to be felt within the Michigan chapter. For example, Cathy was the pioneer for our speaker-shadowing program. Speakers will continue to have a SCBWI “shadow helper” in order to make them comfortable during conferences.  The program has been so successful that other national SCBWI chapters have adopted it.

If there’s ever a moment when the Advisory Committee needs a helping hand, Cathy will be there to offer both her left and her right. Whether it’s stuffing folders for conference participants, greeting them at the registration table, or bringing cold water to the members of a panel, she will be there…. selflessly offering her time and cheerful smile.

What I admire most about Cathy is her devotion to make new people feel welcomed.  If someone is sitting alone at a table, she makes a point of joining them. If a participant is lost, Cathy takes time to walk them to the appropriate conference room.  She doesn’t do it for any sort of glory. She doesn’t expect a pat on the back. She does it because she believes in our chapter, our members, and our dreams. We are in this together and the best way to help each other is to be supportive.

Without a doubt, she will be missed in her role as Mentorship Coordinator. Yet, I find it uplifting knowing that she will continue to be a pinnacle example of what makes our Michigan chapter so wonderful. Thank you Cathy---my role model, my writing buddy, and my dear friend.

Although she’ll deny it, Monica Harris is usually an accomplice and backup dancer to Cathy Bieberich’s karaoke singing! As a previous AdCom member and a retired Co-RA, she does have to worry about her reputation, you know? She lives in Kalamazoo…oh oh, there goes her status in the witness protection plan (gulp).

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Behind the Conference Scenes, a new Featured Illustrator, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. We want to trumpet your good news! Please send your children's writing or illustrating news to Patti Richards by Sept. 26th.


  1. Awesome tribute to Catherine, Monica! She has definitely spear-headed some fantastic opportunities for our members. Thanks so much, Catherine!

  2. Thank you, Cathy, for all of your hard work!

  3. Years ago, I was one of those new, scared conference goers sitting at a table. Catherine made me feel so welcome and comfortable. I am forever grateful for that interaction. And then I had the pleasure of reconnecting with her at the WWMW conference. Thank you for all you've done for SCBWI!

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  5. I whole-heartedly agree. Cathy has been a wonderful volunteer for our chapter.
    We love her and are thrilled she will be participating in our upcoming retreat, where she will undoubtedly be volunteering for something.