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April 4, 2005

Helping others, and never missing a beat

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Apr 4, 2005

Joseph Spector

Staff writer

It's not so much that Elizabeth Ewell volunteers a lot that has gained her the admiration of her peers.

It's that Ewell leads by example.

When performers in Sheltered Reality, an educational band she helped form last year, were timid about going on stage for the first time, Ewell had their backs.

Liz, as she's known, has no formal musical training but grabbed a pair of drumsticks and led the charge.

"She was scared to death to perform in front of people, but for our debut she did it because she wanted to make sure the kids would know that they could," says Sarah Culp of Irondequoit, whose children are in the band.

Sheltered Reality, part of a national effort by the same name, is a youth drumming group that performs locally to raise awareness about homelessness.

And the group's success may be the greatest example of Ewell's drive to help the Rochester area, her home for the past 42 years.

Ewell, 63, of Greece, came upon Sheltered Reality last summer at a Baptist youth convention in Colorado.

So intrigued by its positive message, Ewell worked with her congregation, Lake Avenue Baptist Church, and started a chapter in Rochester.

Through the efforts of Ewell and other volunteers, the band now includes more than a dozen teens and performs regularly at churches and other community places.

Ewell says she takes pride in the fact that the teenagers have embraced helping others.

"This is a group that wants to do something good and make the world a better place," she says.

It's the same mission that Ewell has been on for decades, friends say.

A native of Urbana, Ohio, Ewell moved to Rochester in October 1962 after two years of college in Illinois majoring in chemistry. Her college experience led her to a job in research at Eastman Kodak Co.

But for someone who enjoys working with others, Ewell recognized that scientific research wasn't for her.

"I just decided that research in the field of chemistry wasn't going to be my thing," she says.

So in 1976, Ewell began working at the Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

She eventually became head of the institute's employment center, working with students to find them jobs.

With Ewell's desire to help others, the job was a perfect fit; and she still stays in contact with many NTID graduates. She has a picture on her kitchen table of a student, herself and Trevor, her husband since 1964.

"You got to see the kids at a point where they were really able to apply what they learned at college," she says.

When she retired in 2000, Ewell became more active in church, teaching Sunday school and volunteering with an after-school program for inner-city girls.

She calls them "my surrogate children," since she has none of her own.

Each week, she also helps a woman from church with cerebral palsy set up her own business.

"She is a real example and teacher for other people," says the Rev. Peter Carman at the Lake Avenue church.

Eric Shoen, who helps teach drums to the kids in Sheltered Reality, said Ewell shines as the group's administrator.

She buys kids drumsticks if they can't afford them, picks them up if they don't have a ride and makes sure they eat before rehearsals.

"She's the model for how to educate kids, how to keep them involved, how to motivate them and how to treat them so they are engaged," Shoen says.

For Ewell, it's just part of her duty as a caring community member.

"I only pick the things that really turn me on and where I really feel I can make a difference," she says.

To the people close to her, she's making pretty good choices.

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.