A vacationing Wendy Serrino answers the phone call in Park City, Utah. The Glencoe resident had just completed a morning hike with the family dog, Zoe, in late July. The dutiful canine served as Serrino’s alert Sherpa—minus the Himalayan heritage and the ability to converse.
“It was beautiful,” says Serrino, her voice conveying a can’t-wait-for-my-next-hike lilt. “The wooded trails, the hilltop flowers, and the wildlife are all incredible. It’s a good escape, hiking here or anywhere else. But you can’t let your mind wander too much; you have to focus on what you’re doing, on where you’re going.
“I hiked along the Blue Ridge Mountains in college,” the University of Virginia graduate adds. “So much fun. It was physically challenging, too, but so worth it. It’s a different world up there.”
Serrino’s ongoing journey—as a passionate UNICEF officer and supporter—in the world down here is her commitment to Water for Guinea, a UNICEF USA initiative devoted to improving sustainable water access to rural communities in the west-coastal republic in West Africa.
Launched in 2014 after UNICEF partnered with AJA Charitable Foundation to test the feasibility of developing cost-effective water points in remote villages, Water for Guinea continues to focus on—and chip away at—the 36 percent of Guinea’s population that lacks access to safe water. Children are particularly vulnerable to falling ill due to waterborne diseases. It now costs an average of only $12.55 to provide one person safe water for a decade because of the deployment of Water for Guinea’s Manual Drilling Program.
The program constructed 163 wells.
“Water for Guinea provides instant help,” says Serrino, a former chairman of the Midwest Regional Board of Directors for UNICEF USA.“It’s transformative. It changes the lives of many, particularly children, immediately; I love that about Water for Guinea. I’ve always admired what UNICEF does to protect and save children all over the world. UNICEF impressed the heck out of me after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, when it got in there quickly and rescued children during a terrible tragedy.
“UNICEF,” adds the mother of four and the founder of the nonprofit North Shore Exchange, “was the first charitable organization my husband, Frank, and I backed after we had paid off our student loans. It was time. Time to give back.”
The daughter of Don Mueller, formerly of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and Sandy,
a secretary dedicated to a wide range of philanthropic causes, Wendy grew up in Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and northern Virginia.
Or, in her word, “Everywhere.”
Her mother died last year.
“My mom,” Serrino says, “inspired me. Her mantra when she raised me was, ‘Be kind, be useful, help others, make time for others.’ She wanted people to be willing to walk in others’ moccasins before making judgments about them.”
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in industrial engineering, Serrino earned her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She worked for Intel before Kraft Foods hired her to serve in its product marketing department. Serrino got promoted to marketing director and left Kraft after 15 years.
In 2013 she created North Shore Exchange— an award-winning upscale and luxury resale boutique, with locations in Glencoe, Chicago, and Skokie—and its sound business plan. To date it has donated nearly $2 million to Chicago-area charities that provide human services to children and families below the poverty level, as well as to Family Service in Glencoe.
North Shore Exchange received the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce James Tyree Award for emerging business leadership in 2017.
UNICEF USA needed an effective leader to bolster Water for Guinea’s mission and enhance the awareness of the critical project’s phases stateside. It tapped a dynamic one in Wendy Serrino, who recently produced and narrated a snappy, creative YouTube video. The one-minute, 37- second recording presents Guinea’s dire situation—through facts and figures and illustrations—and announces Water for Guinea’s aim to raise $2 million in two years to expand the program and supply sustainable drinking water to an additional 210,000 people.
“My first version of the video was terrible,” Serrino, a resident of Glencoe for 24 years, recalls with laughter. “Then, after adding illustrations, it was not quite as terrible. Then I called Ink Factory Studio in Chicago, and the people at that wonderful company did such a great job of making Water for Guinea’s concepts come to life for us in the video.”
Serrino has visited Madagascar, Rwanda, Laos, and Uganda, among other countries, as a representative of UNICEF, the world’s largest humanitarian organization. In December she plans to see the beneficiaries of Water for Guinea firsthand in N’Zerekore and other regions.
Frank and Wendy’s youngest child, 17-year-old Tommy, is a UNICEF youth club member.The couple’s other children—Natalie, Jessie, and Jack—are UNICEF donors.
“I’m really lucky,” admits Serrino, who likes to order either an omelet or a stack of pancakes at her favorite North Shore breakfast spot, Café Buongiorno in Winnetka. “I live a good, full life. I’m in a very happy marriage, with four great kids, and I have the time to be a mom and focus on meaningful projects connected to UNICEF and North Shore Exchange.”
Her favorite part of motherhood? Serrino comes up with her answer in no time.
“Helping our children figure out who they truly are and what their strengths are,” she says. “It’s important for parents to expose their children to a lot of things as they’re growing up, and there’s nothing as great as seeing your children become good people.”
For more information about Water for Guinea, visit unicefusa.org/waterforguinea.