Inspired to Give 3

Sherry Ahern

Spend five minutes with Sherry Ahern and you will be inspired.
“I consider myself almost like an architect of people,” she says over lunch at The Lot where, true to form, she seems to know just about everyone. “Many of my close friends call me a connector – it’s something I seem to do automatically when I see an opportunity to bring people together.”
Her energy, exuberance, and dedication to her community are contagious. She recently closed the ninth year of the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, an event she founded to fund art programs at La Jolla, Torrey Pines, and Bird Rock Elementary Schools and at Muirland Middle School. She is already planning the tenth anniversary celebration next year. She is buoyed by the incredible growth of the La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market, which she dreamed up 21 years ago as a fundraiser for La Jolla’s public schools on what was initially a shoestring budget. And she is doggedly focused on her next big chapters – bringing opera to San Diego schools and working with women and children in transition.
Ahern’s bent for the philanthropic started early. “My mother once told me she had to watch me, or I’d give away our furniture,” she says laughing. The La Jolla local launched the Open Aire Farmers Market 19 years ago after district budget cuts left La Jolla Elementary without a proper library, librarian, nurse, or technology, music, or physical education offerings. “I wanted to do something that would bring the school and the community together,” she says now. “Between the market, the annual gala and its cash drive, the (Friends of La Jolla Elementary School) foundation is able to fund those much-needed resources.”
Together with Kevin, her husband of 32 years, Ahern sits on a variety of community boards. She is a longtime supporter of the Salvation Army Auxiliary’s Door of Hope transitional living program for women and children, and works tirelessly with Diabetes Research Connection, the foundation the Aherns launched in the wake of their son’s diabetes diagnosis at the age of ten. She is also chairing the San Diego Opera’s upcoming Pretty In Pink gala (honoring Dame Zandra Rhodes) at the U.S. Grant Hotel on April 7. Sherry and Kevin’s shared passion for opera (both are San Diego Opera board members) fueled an initiative to bring more than 10,000 children to opera performances in the last year alone, and they are committed to bringing opera to San Diego schools to spark kids’ interest in the genre. 
Through it all, Ahern is humbled by and thankful for the help of volunteers she has worked alongside over the years, noting that her life is undoubtedly richer as a result of knowing them. “None of what I work on or do would be possible without the help of some of the smartest, hardworking people,” she says. “I wish I could name them all.”
Ahern admits that her work wouldn’t be possible without the love, support and patience of Kevin and her children Brianna, 31, and Brenden, 27. “We are cut from the same cloth,” she says of Kevin. “He is the most big-hearted and generous person I’ve ever met.” 
She certainly has no plans to slow down anytime soon. For her 60th birthday this March, Ahern plans to celebrate on a trip to Portugal with her family and friends. When asked what drives her, she doesn’t mince words. “Gratification comes from real, grounded things and people. You have to have that kind of spirit to not be afraid to go out and help,” she says. “I’m doing the work I was put on this earth to do, and that makes me know how lucky I am.”