Growing up in New York City, it is no mystery why Sharon Hicks was able to call another large city home. After moving to Pittsburgh for college when she was 17 years old, she went on to meet her husband and raise her now 26 year-old daughter in the city she describes as “a great place to live and a great place to raise a child.” With a Pittsburgh native as a husband and family living in Brooklyn, Sharon and her family can live the best of both worlds between the two cities they love. Now (happy) empty nesters, Sharon found an interest in yoga and spent much of her free time teaching yoga classes for adults, children with anxiety, and women in a domestic violence shelter.
Beginning her career as a social worker at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Sharon’s focus has always been on giving back and helping others. After a few years working as a clinician, Sharon began to do more administrative work. “About 10 years after I received my Master’s degree in social work, I went on to get a Master’s degree in business administration,” she explained. Though she has moved away from direct care in her career, Sharon has always been drawn to work in organizations that have a clinical and social mission.
With her intense love of giving back to the community, working with the United Way in college seemed like a natural step for Sharon. United Way of Allegheny County has always been a well-respected part of the social service infrastructure of our community. Sharon got her first taste of the United Way while working at an agency that helped families that had issues with child physical abuse. “I helped out in group meetings, worked in the day care center and did home visits,” Sharon shares, “so I have known about the good work of United Way of Allegheny County for over 30 years.”
When asked why she got involved in United Way, Sharon’s answer was simple: giving back was part of her nature. “When you start our your career as a social worker, you never dream that someday you will be the Chief Operating Officer of a large insurance company. The career opportunities that I have had have been exciting and fulfilling, but I never lost the “social worker” part of me,” she elaborates. She feels that it is important to feel like you are giving back in a meaningful way, be it through working for a mission-driven company or donating (time and money). “I am very happy that I have the means to give at the Tocqueville level, but I am also confident that my donations will be used to affect the greatest possible good,” she concludes. “The stewardship of the United Way programs make my donation decision easy.”
Wishing to share her experiences, she explains that and important part of the United Way’s mission is to help the agencies that are receiving funds improve their outcomes and performance. The philanthropy could just give money, but instead, it has helped to support organizations, to strengthen them, to push them to be even better than they were and to demonstrate their effectiveness. Sharon wants to share that people giving to the United Way of Allegheny County can be assured that the people who benefit from that donation are getting the highest quality services in our region.
Speaking to those who are considering becoming a Tocqueville member, Sharon wants them to know that “at first I was nervous about making the Tocqueville level commitment, but the step-up program was really helpful with that.” She wants to encourage people who are on the fence to think about the step-up program, and let them know that Tocqueville members get to see first hand the good that they help to do via events, reports and volunteer opportunities. “It really is a humbling experience to see the need in the community and know that you are, in whatever way you can, truly helping others.”
Loving the multitude of ways to help the community through her Tocqueville membership, Sharon speaks to her favorite event, sharing her enjoyment in making and serving lunch to the residents of Bethlehem Haven, an organization that provides shelter and housing support to homeless women and families. “It’s a wonderful organization that does really important work, so being able to serve lunch to the residents and staff was a real treat for me,” she exclaims.
As her interview comes to an end, Sharon once again proves her love for the community by saying, “I think that all the initiatives are important, however, my areas of consistent focus are on ameliorating hunger and homelessness and on supporting education for children.” Pittsburgh and the United Way are lucky to have a member so devoted to giving back to our community.