Meet Sharon Smith and understand the meaning of collaboration.
Sharon has served as the Executive Director of Evergreen Christian Outreach (EChO) since 2009. She brought to the position incredible formal and experiential wisdom with her in psychology, criminal justice, crime prevention, healthcare, security, theology, education, domestic abuse and counseling. “I knew that the biggest thing I could bring to EChO is my enthusiasm to collaborate,” she said.
She grew up in Riverside, New Jersey where she “followed her heart” by studying psychology, criminal justice and crime prevention, pursuing a job in national crime prevention. “Do you remember McGruff - Take a bite out of crime?” She asked it as if she were mentioning an old friend.
Sharon has two daughters who made the trek to Colorado with her. Here, she also has her horses. “Oh, I love spending time with them.” When she finds time to tend them, is another question.
When she and the girls moved to Colorado, she worked in Hospital Shared Services that served as investigators for hospitals. “We dealt with issues in theft, narcotics, assessment of security. It was a varied workload.” Security work also took her to U.S. West, Denver International Airport, museums and office buildings.
With a big sigh, she said with a tone of relief in her voice, “Then I went to work as the Children’s Education Director at Church of the Risen Christ, in Denver.” You might think that would have been a calmer position, but she was in charge of educating 400 children. She went on to become the Director of Religious Education at Christ the King Church (in Evergreen). Sharon didn’t come unprepared to this new work. “I went to Bible school for four years. It was held once a week, and many times I thought to myself the night before class, What was I thinking? But I learned so much and I really enjoyed it.”
As director of Mountain Peace Shelter in Bailey, she supervised the only domestic violence shelter in a 2700-square-mile area. “Once someone comes into the shelter we were able to work with them one-on-one. It was a great run.”
In 2009 she accepted the Executive Director position at EChO where she uses all her experience and education to assist those who suddenly find themselves in an emergency situation, sometimes so serious they can't buy groceries.
“That’s one of the hardest challenges we have in Evergreen. Many people see beautiful, big homes and think that there is no need here. When in fact, there are many families who can pay rent, utilities and gas but they don’t have enough to feed their families.” She said that it costs an average of $71,000 for a family of four to live in Evergreen. “Even if you have two incomes at $15 per hour, you can’t do it here.”
Sharon knows what our local schools experience, as well. Teachers, staff and administrators see students who don’t do well in school because they arrive hungry.
With strict confidentiality guidelines in place, EChO works with clients to encourage them become self-sufficient. EChO will help people create a budget and learn about resources available to them. “Seniors are a growing population at EChO. They tell us that they never thought they’d need our services.”
Sharon is currently working with churches to help the 20+ homeless people in Evergreen. “We’re setting up an emergency shelter for cold weather nights. Those who know that they may need this service will be pre-screened to enable them to be transported to the shelter and given a packed breakfast the following morning.”
As a member of the local Salvation Army committee, Sharon works with representatives of other nonprofit organizations in the area, ensuring that the money put in the kettles every holiday season is spent wisely by screening applications through EChO.
Despite the challenges that she faces each day to assist clients at EChO, she will enthusiastically tell you that she loves working in this community. “We have great relationships with other Executive Directors of local non-profits. We are ‘MAD’” she laughed, “the Mountain Area Directors, that include the Senior Resource Center, Mountain Peace Shelter, Habitat for Humanity, Mountain Area Pregnancy Center, Mountain Area Jobs, and Center for the Arts Evergreen. We share in order to support each other.”
She emphasized that, by understanding other non-profits’ work, duplication of services is avoided. For all the non-profits, “we may not be able to answer everyone’s needs, but we know where to refer them.”
Sharon doesn’t just participate in collaborations, but from her experience, is active in bringing organizations together. She is involved in a leadership group through the Denver Foundation to raise awareness about the Colorado Food Pantry Network. The goal is to provide a network to bring food and supplies to those in need the best way possible.
“EChO, (which has served Evergreen and the surrounding community since 1986) I believe, is at a turning point. We don’t want to just give people food or help them pay a bill. We want to help move people forward so that they can gain control of their life again.” Her experience makes her a great leader to empower rather than simply support.
Her years at EChO have combined to be much more than just a job. She takes her work personally. Asked how people can help, donating food and personal care products is an obvious answer. “If people could just pick up an extra item or two when they go shopping, it can make a huge difference.” Sharon clarified that donations of eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit and other fresh items are most appreciated. “Everyone wants nutritious food.”
Sharon is a woman with endless determination and energy, and whether teaming up with her family, those she works with in business, or finding time to spend with her horses, she finds success comes by collaborating.