The Sharp household is active, engaged, and involved. As her husband Joe puts it, Melissa “works five days a week raising the kids and then takes two days off as an oncology nurse.” When Joe comes home from Cohen & Grigsby, P.C., where he is Chief Financial Officer, “they spend a lot of time at gymnastics and the sports fields,” coaching and cheering on their four energetic children, ages 6 to 12. With demanding jobs and busy schedules, it would be easy to lose sight of the big picture. But Joe and Melissa are grateful for the life they’ve built during their 15-year marriage, and they want their children to understand that “we’re very fortunate — where we live and how we live. They need to realize that’s a gift from God, and we have to give back.”
Joe and Melissa don’t just tell their kids about the joy of giving back. They model it. In addition to several ongoing volunteer activities at church and school, Joe was among the Tocqueville donors who volunteered their time, energy, and expertise as proposal reviewers during United Way’s Helping Families THRIVE competitive funding process in the spring of 2015. “This was my first time performing the financial review for the United Way. Obviously, as CFO I spend my life reviewing financials, but never really for nonprofits. So it was a learning experience for me,” Joe says. “It was really an interesting process from a couple of different standpoints. One was to see what these agencies operate on. It’s amazing the amount of good they do with the limited dollars that they receive.” United Way’s support makes a critical difference: “Those dollars would be limited even more without the United Way’s contribution… It really is impressive to see what the United Way does, both from a monetary and volunteer standpoint.”
“Looking at papers and reading numbers is one thing,” Joe continues, “but the more exciting part was going to the site visits, actually talking to the agencies.” The two agencies Joe visited, “were very different in their style of presentation, but the underlying commonality was the good they do for different groups of people. It was really impressive to see what they do, to see the care and intensity of the presenters and the appreciation they showed for us – really, for the United Way. It gave me a good feeling to be part of that.”
Joe and Melissa want their kids to experience that good feeling, too, and to understand how important it is to give and volunteer to help others. For the past two years, the Sharp Family has manned an activity table at Be My Neighbor Day, a United Way-sponsored community service event for the whole family. “Our kids helped the other little kids decorate placemats for seniors who get Meals on Wheels. They packed snack bags for older children as well. It was great to have the kids in one place for three hours, with no electronics, and with no complaining about it! That’s the key thing right there. They actually enjoyed what they were doing. They realized they were doing it for someone else, but it wasn’t a chore to them. I think you have to engrain that in them at a young age, that it’s our responsibility to help others.”
Joe and Melissa enjoy the connections that giving and volunteering afford them. “I’ve gained a lot out of being a Tocqueville donor. They’re a great group of people, and it’s a great experience to be part of a group of like-minded individuals who have the wherewithal to give of their time, talent, and treasures in that manner. It’s about more than money. As you go through different stages in life what you have to give changes. Sometimes you have more time than money, other times it’s the opposite. So you have to work with that, give what you can when you can.”
Joe and Melissa embraced that strategy early. They were first introduced to United Way when Joe was on staff at Ernst & Young, and was “…right out of college. The simplicity of payroll deduction was what got us started. Seeing the results over the years has kept us going.” Recently, as United Way Campaign Chair at Cohen & Grigsby, Joe encouraged younger associates at the firm to re-examine their preconceived notions about giving back. “Often the treasure’s not there when you’re buried in college debt. What we wanted to get across is that it’s not about how much. It’s about giving. It’s important to start that habit early in life.” Joe knew he’d come up with a winning formula at the annual Campaign Celebration, which “is one of my favorite events,” Joe says. “It puts my problems in perspective when I listen to the stories of the people United Way has helped.” The young associates at his table felt the same way. They saw the impact of their combined contributions, at every dollar level, and they were excited to discover the many volunteer opportunities available through United Way.
It’s no accident that Joe and Melissa so clearly see the value of giving, and that they’re passing that lesson down to the next generation. Joe’s mom and dad, both in their 80’s, still volunteer five days/week at their local recycling center and food bank. Joe sums up the simple rule he learned from them: “Do good things. Start early. Give whatever you can. If you make a habit of giving, the rewards you get far exceed what you put into it.”