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Fast Five: Rhonda Newton: ‘Crafters gotta craft’

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | May 5, 2020 12:38 PM

Meet Rhonda Newton, who has lived in Post Falls, Hayden and Rathdrum for more than 30 years.

Generation: I’m a baby boomer, having been born right at the tail end of the generational category. I have an extremely strong work ethic (I admit, I’m a workaholic). I have a passion for everything I’m involved in and I love to mentor young adults. I’m loyal beyond measure and am very driven in all I do.

Career and community involvement: I spent my entire career working in the legal field. I started out as a court reporter, and later worked as a legal assistant and paralegal, overseeing very large document-intensive cases. I received a business degree along the way and was able to put it to use in the legal field working as a marketing director, director of human resources and as a litigation support manager.

Parental status: I am the very proud mother of two now-grown, now-married boys, both of whom were raised in Post Falls. I was a single mom who worked long hours, so we worked together as a team and are still very close. Both of my boys have served in the United States Air Force (one is still serving). Additionally, one of my daughters-in-law recently completed her contract with the United States Air Force and will be returning to the Post Falls area after having been stationed on the East Coast for the past three years. We are a very close, very patriotic family!

Why and when did you join Cancer and Community Charities (3Cs)?

I joined 3Cs in January of 2016. One of my long-time crafty family friends had recently lost her husband to cancer, and she told me about this wonderful group she joined. She invited me to a Twisted Stitchers 3Cs activity group meeting. As I sat there listening to the members talking about all the crafty projects they had started but had not finished, something hit me! These were my people!! I’m a long-time crafter who has about a dozen or so projects going at all time, but then I see something shiny, and there the project sits as I start a new one! As I sat there at dinner, I thought to myself, “Who were these ladies? They are just like me!”

The next day I attended a 3Cs meeting. I LOVED hearing about all the good things they were doing in the community. I put my hand in the air immediately and started helping. I was approached by the gal who, at the time, was running the group’s electronic newsletter. Within days, I was updating the grant recipient section of the electronic newsletter, which goes out to our 600-plus members. Then I started volunteering to help with anything and everything! I have chaired our annual fashion show three times, chaired our annual Fall Fest, served on our Appropriations Committee two years in a row, chaired last year’s golf tournament (where we had to reschedule by one week due to snow in September!), started and chaired our T-shirt, hat and sweatshirt fundraiser, started a new 3Cs monthly activity group Crafty Crew with three other 3Cs members, have served one year as second vice president, one year as first vice president and I have my sights set on running for president in our upcoming elections.

As leader of the Crafty Crew and the mask-making crusade, what has been your experience managing and sewing hundreds and hundreds of masks during a pandemic?

Our mask-making donation and fund-raising project started in answer to Kootenai Health asking for local sewers to sew and donate 1,000 fabric face masks. I saw the post and reached out to our Crafty Crew members. My email included something along the lines of, “You know how crafters gotta craft and sewers gotta sew? Well, have I got a project for you!” They jumped all over it! We invited another activity group to join in our efforts, and within a couple days, we had over 250 masks to donate to Kootenai Health, which by then had already received the 1,000 they were asking for, and to Heritage Health, which had contacted us for masks.

I’m a Facebooker, so I like to post feel-good things. I posted about us making and donating masks and about how wonderful it was to be a part of 3Cs and to help our community in a time of need. Within hours, I received personal messages through Facebook from friends I’ve known for 15-plus years in Canada, Texas, California and the Seattle area, all inquiring if they could buy masks. I answered that if they wanted to donate to 3Cs, I could get them taken care of. My friends immediately said, “That’s great! How does $10 a mask sound?” That’s how our fundraiser started. I reached out to our face mask project gals and let them know we had the opportunity to make some money for our community. They jumped all over the idea. (Keep in mind, we were all going stir crazy from the quarantine right about now, so this gave us all something to do!) I set up an Etsy store and started listing masks. Orders started pouring in through Etsy as did local orders, so our donation project quickly turned into a fundraiser.

3Cs is 100 percent volunteer. We have no paid positions. 3Cs fundraises all year long and then donates back to the community. Because of the pandemic, we had to cancel ALL of our activities, including our annual fashion show, our largest fundraising event of the year. The Coeur d’Alene Press did a nice story on our donation efforts, which we are still continuing to do. A few days after the story ran, I was contacted by the Press about another story – it included information of where our local community members could purchase face masks. Within an hour of that phone call, I knew we were about to be hit with a tsunami of orders!

Before I could even call anyone to chat about how the process would flow, we had over 350 emails! I started charting the order information and within two hours, and another hundred or so emails, I reached out to Annette Durkin who handles 3Cs online bulletin to see if she had time to take over the email orders that were flooding our email inbox. Thankfully, Annette said yes.

I assembled teams of cutters, sewists, callers and collectors and put a flow chart together. We have three teams of callers, collectors and sewists. We have a donation chair and sewists who work exclusively on donation requests. The face mask fundraising project has turned into a wonderful way to supplement our fundraiser efforts, but most importantly, it’s become just another way 3Cs could help our community!

It’s given us all something to do during this pandemic, which is nice, but I don’t think any of us expected the project would have evolved to the level it turned in to, certainly not me! For those interested, email CraftyCrew208@gmail.com.

How can other people contribute their gifts to help others at this time?

Due to the pandemic and the resulting business closures, there are SO MANY families in need right now. The food banks are getting hit so hard as some families try to maneuver how to put food on the table when both parents are affected by the shut downs. Those affected right now have probably never been in a position like this before, so the tiniest act of kindness can make the biggest difference to someone who is struggling.

What are three things people would be surprised to learn about you?

I used to be SO shy and SO quiet in my late teens and early 20s. Today I can speak at events with upwards of 500 people and never miss a beat. I LOVE the dirt and mud! ATVing through mud puddles is my absolute favorite! Oh, and I’m also an ordained minister. I perform marriage ceremonies regularly! I make the ceremony personal and fun by telling the couple’s love story!

What is something you look back on that makes you really appreciate your life?

Where do I start? I’ve got a pretty impressive professional resume, but my personal resume, not so much! I’m not a stranger to heartbreak or times of struggle, but had I not gone through what I went through in my life, I wouldn’t have my two amazing boys! They have brought me the most joy in my life. Had I not struggled, I wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard as I did to gain my education, certifications and degrees which allowed me to provide a stable home environment for my boys. I’ve never been without a job since high school, but in 2015, I was able to (semi) retire. Had I not met my boyfriend Art eight-plus years ago, I would have never thought I would be able to support myself with my crafting and legal businesses. I now work for myself, and I have to admit, my boss is pretty darn amazing! Life has a way of always working out, despite the struggles along the way!