Niels Chew affected you
In Social Responsibility class this week, we are researching champions for the people throughout history. The students are writing reports about what makes a person great: Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, the Dali Lama. I’m thinking about Niels Chew.
Most students don’t realize what Niels meant to youth in the Sonoma Valley.
If you are one of the 450 students with a mentor, you have been affected by Niels.
If you are one of the hundreds of students who have ever been to the Shop, the alcohol- and drug-free venue for music shows and art programs out on Eighth Street East, you were affected by Niels.
If you have ever eaten one of the 30-dozen muffins Niels would deliver weekly to the No Name Café, you are affected by Niels.
If you utilize any of the programs of Sonoma Valley Teen Services (Skills for Life, Lovin’ Oven, Financial Literacy, Teen Center, Tutoring, Art Programs) you are affected by Niels.
Gotten a ride home from Teen Safe Ride? – Niels.
Benefitted from Hospice, the Sonoma Overnight Shelter, Becoming Independent, FISH or one of the employment programs at Dowling Magnets- Niels.
He was a stoic fellow. Never aloof or self-serving, just focused. Three years ago, the SVTS board was faced with closure of their entire program. Niels immediately wrote a check to keep it afloat.
“Just pay me back when you can,” he asked, in his casual way. Today, the SVTS yearly budget is more than $120,000. Its programs are stronger than ever and its effect on teens in the community grows daily.
“I remember a meeting in his office at Dowling Magnetics,” recalls SVTS executive director Cristin Lawrence. “Niels’ grandson was in the office and, while we met, Niels told him to study a map of the United States on the wall. Thirty minutes, the grandson was studying the states while Niels and I talked, then he quizzed him when we were done. That was just Niels’ way, no time to waste, every opportunity to learn.”
To honor Niels, we must continue his legacy. Most programs are running smoothly, but the Shop must now find a new home. Sonoma Valley Teen Services is looking for a venue to house a new alcohol- and drug-free music and art venue for youth. Fifteen years in the Dowling Magnetics warehouse, under Niels’ magical umbrella, was a great run, but now it’s time to move on.
Please contact SVTS services if you can help (939-1452, svteens.org).
Niels will never die. Just like the champions mentioned above, his legacy makes him immortal. The programs he created, the sparks he ignited, the boards he worked on – he lives on in each person he affected.
The celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m. at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church.
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Walt Williams is a local teacher who was lucky enough to be on the SVTS board with Niels.