Marsha Sharpe retires from a lifetime of service to others in need
Making a difference in the lives of others is one reason a person might pursue a career in social services. It is a career where one works to help meet the basic human needs of all people with particular attention to the needs of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty. It is not always a fun job, but those who choose to work in the field see it as an honor.
Chesterfield County recently lost a leader in the field of social services when Marsha Sharpe retired. With 45 years of service in the field, 17 with Chesterfield County and the last five as director of the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services, Sharpe said leaving was bitter-sweet.
Sharpe’s leadership was a caring one and her mentoring approach promoted dedicated and successful employees. She continued to encourage them up until her last day ,telling them during her retirement party how important and valuable they were.
“You are so necessary and so valuable and as hard as it is, it is an honor to do what you do each day,” she said. “There are so many people that don’t have a voice – always know how meaningful your job is. We are the ones that can provide what others can’t. A real home and work in a world where there is so much need.”
She did not plan for a career in social services when she launched her career in 1970, having just earned her college degree in religious education. The door opened for her when she began working with children and adoptions for the Kentucky Department Child Welfare in Louisville. “I knew I was going to do something with people, I just did not know what,” she said about the direction she took. “I learned on the job and became certified in Social work, helping foster children and doing adoptions. It was very rewarding.”
With a move to Richmond, Sharpe served with the Richmond City Department of Social Services working with families and in leadership positions. She also served as a Program Consultant with the Virginia Department of social Services responsible for interpreting federal and state laws and regulations related to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program and was responsible for training local departments of social services.
She began her service with Chesterfield County as Assistant Director for Benefit Programs and was appointed Interim Director in 2009 and in 2010 was named permanent director of the Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services.
As director Sharpe developed strong partnerships with state and local staff and officials, other local departments of social services and community organizations in order to work collaboratively to enhance the delivery of services and meet the needs of residents.
Her department was recognized for a commitment to innovation and excellence as exemplified by a 2014 National Association of Counties Achievement Award for the Ettrick Medication Assistance Program, which is a public/private partnership that provides assistance to purchase prescription medications for low-income individuals and families in the Ettrick community and also for the 2015 Virginia Department of Social Services First Annual I3 Innovation Award, which recognized the department’s efforts in both customer service and community engagement.
She seemed most proud of the department’s latest initiative, a once-a-month in-house job fair. “We wanted to make sure people are connected to employers so we began holding our own job fair,” Sharpe said. “We started small. First one was in July. We had 17 people to come out of the lobby and 16 came back with a job.”
Sharpe said she would have like to see the department do more outreach, like they are doing with the Chesterfield Food Bank saying “We never have enough people to do everything that needs to be done.”
Deborah Norwood served as Sharpe’s administrative assistant. Upon Sharpes leaving she said, “Marsha did such a great job as Director for Chesterfield-Colonial Heights Department of Social Services. I always feel it’s important to mention that we serve two localities. She cared about her work, the citizens we serve and staff. One of the things that many of us will miss is her delicious homemade goodies she would bring to meetings on occasion. Not only did it taste good, it looked like something you would see in a magazine. We always told her she should go into the catering business once she retires. Marsha believed that you could do anything you put your mind too. This was her philosophy in her career and life. When she gave her speech upon her retirement, you could tell how honored she was working for this agency and Chesterfield County. Her emotions reflected how much she cared about her work and how much she will miss the friends she has made throughout the years.”
Sarah Snead, Chesterfield County Deputy Director of Health and Human Services, has known and worked side-by-side with Sharpe. She said, “I had the pleasure of knowing Marsha prior to her joining the Social Services staff because we worked together on a Virginia League of Social Services committee during the Welfare Reform era, during the mid-90’s. At that time, I noticed her leadership abilities and those only grew during our many years together.”
Ms. Snead added, “I think that the county was extremely fortunate to have Marsha as the director of Social Services during the economic downturn. She offered stability and a clear focus and direction that ensured the department was able to manage its unprecedented workload, along with the other challenges encountered both by staff and community during this challenging time. Marsha’s passion and commitment for social services was appreciated and she will be greatly missed.”