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‘Developing’ a retirement plan

Mission’s Community Developer Sharon Kirtdoll retiring

November 11, 2012
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star community editor ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Sharon L. Kirtdoll is about to begin a new chapter of her life.

Today brings a formal appreciation of her ministry achievements and service as the community developer and founder and director of Neighborhood Community Development Center, Urban Mission Ministries, from which Kirtdoll is retiring after 34 years of faithful service.

Friends, family and her Urban Mission and community peers will be gathering today for a "Thanks for the Memories" retirement celebration set to unfold at Froehlich's Classic Corner.

Article Photos

Sharon L. Kirtdoll of Mingo Junction is retiring after 34 years of faithful service to the community and Urban Mission Ministries as the community developer and Neighborhood Community Development Center founder and director. A “Thanks for the Memories” retirement celebration is being held today at Froehlich’s Classic Corner in Steubenville.

It will no doubt be a time of tears and tributes as well as a public opportunity to reflect on where the years have gone and what's been accomplished.

The Readers Digest version has Kirtdoll beginning her ministry in 1978 at Simpson United Methodist Church as staff of the Community Developers Program of the General Board of Global Ministries. In 1984, she founded and directed the Women's Center for 11 years. In December 1995, she joined the staff at Urban Mission Ministries as director of the Neighborhood Community Development Center.

Her contributions?

They include, according to the October Urban Mission newsletter, being one of the founders of what today is Urban Mission's JOSHUA program, an acronym for Journeys of Service Helping Upper Appalachia, which helps qualifying low-income homeowners with improvement projects. She established and spearheaded the annual Minority Health Month, the Lupus Optimal Health Program, the Greater Steubenville Community Development Corporation and Math Excellence for Elementary Students.

"I really do feel good about it and what I have done because some days it's not clear, something happened and you think why am I spinning my wheels, why am I doing this. There have been some really low moments and some high moments," Kirtdoll said during a recent interview in her office at the Urban Mission Ministries at 301 N. Fifth St.

Kirtdoll has definite thoughts on retirement, including what she'll do with her time.

She plans to volunteer at her church, Simpson United Methodist; to heed her hobbies - reading, sewing and a love for decorating; and to enjoy family, which includes three children, Carmen Thompson, Ivy Jo Smith and Angela Kirtdoll-Suggs, and three granddaughters, Whitney Thompson, Nala Colliers and Lydia Smith.

"I think it's time to retire," she said.

But Kirtdoll admits to some reluctance, too.

"I have a lot of apprehension about it or anxiety because some of the things I feel are my baby, including the diabetes education grant which doesn't end until August 2013, so I will stay involved and see that that happens because the goal of the grant is a little different from my goal for program," she explained. "The goal of the grant is to conduct classes and have 60 people complete diabetes education classes. My goal is to have lay leaders training to continue to teach those classes so we have people in the community with knowledge to teach diabetes education," Kirtdoll said.

As her faith-based career draws to a close, Kirtdoll said she relates to the lyrics of the Frank Sinatra song "It Was A Very Good Year," that its words bring to mind chapters of her life that fostered growth and goodness, pleasures and purpose.

The former Sharon Lewis who grew up in Mingo Junction and graduated from Mingo High School in 1962 said she was a small town girl whose teen years were the roughest. "I didn't have dreams, I didn't have goals. I had low self-esteem and didn't have great expectations," she said.

"Growing up I had no imagination, no plans to do anything like what I was doing (now). I figured I would get married and be a housewife and that's it," Kirtdoll said.

Glad to graduate and be done with school, Kirtdoll worked briefly at Treasure Island, then met and married William Kirtdoll, who would ultimately pursue seminary studies and become the Rev. William Kirtdoll. He pastored locally at Second Baptist Church in Steubenville as interim pastor, then at Mingo Baptist Church until his death in 1996.

Kirtdoll said she and her husband moved to Kansas City after their marriage, making it their home until a return to the area in 1978.

The years in Kansas were eye-openers in an environment where Kirtdoll said she connected with motivated people and witnessed community programs flourishing.

"When I returned home I became aware of the social needs of the black community, of our community, because prior to that I had no concept of social concerns," she said.

"I wasn't interested in community organizing or any of that growing up, but once I left and was exposed to that in Kansas City and worked with Bill and others in Kansas City and met people who were motivated and working in politics and elections and in a movement at the church, I became more aware of it," Kirtdoll said.

"When I came back here, I could see that this area really needed a community worker, someone who was concerned about what was and what wasn't happening in the black community," said Kirtdoll, who has viewed her role as a community developer as being one who motivates, organizes and develops "people programs."

Such was the seed for Kirtdoll's harvest of providing help.

Through a conversation with her pastor, the late Rev. George Lee of Simpson UMC, Kirtdoll said the community developer position emerged as she worked out of the church for the General Board of Global Ministries, UMC, with conference and district UMC support, beginning in the late 1970s.

Kirtdoll pioneered the pilot program locally, beginning with an assessment of the African-American community - everything from the number of black churches and businesses in existence and resources available to home ownership and college attendance among African-Americans.

"It was like a community profile," Kirtdoll said of the information compiled before community developer status was granted.

"Community development is people development, organizational development, when you look at it from the standpoint of the church, it's people being developed to achieve goals and personal growth," Kirtdoll said in offering a definition.

"I would call myself a resource person, a liaison to the African-American community," Kirtdoll said.

"My intention was doing a program in the South End, working with children and parents in the South End," Kirtdoll said in recalling the early years of the position. "The need was for recreation and an after-school program, a summer program. There was no playground equipment, playgrounds were not used at all in summer, and there were no attendants. I began working with Harvey Woods, recreation director at the time, and Urban Mission funded me for the first summer program in 1979 and with volunteers - no staff, all volunteers - we had an eight-week summer program, a hundred children a day, five days a week. We got summer youth workers assigned to parks and recreation sent to us, and we put them on playgrounds. We purchased playground equipment through funds provided and donations and set up a schedule for activities. That's how we started," she said.

"When the summer ended, we started an after-school program at St. John Lutheran Church on Third Street and used volunteers. We had a sewing program, and we put buttons on their coats and repaired coats, and they learned clothing repair. We had a little boy who wanted to learn, and then we opened it up for the boys, also," she said.

"In 1984, I received a grant from the women's division of the United Methodist Church for $10,000, and we opened the women's center in the former South Street Fire Station," Kirtdoll said of the center in existence for 10 years. It became a neighborhood resource and drop-in site offering exercise, cooking, arts and crafts, sewing, health education, the summer food program, AIDS education, a Girl Scout program, Concerned Adults for Better Education and a teen pregnancy prevention program.

It was through the community developers position that many programs originated, including Minority Health Month, for instance, that began in 1989; the Lupus Information Support and Education Program to address preventive care and education for the disease prevalent among the minority population; the Parish Nurse Program that provides basic health information and testing skills to clients of Urban Mission and NCDC; a wellness program where Kirtdoll directed an abstinence program for youth; a math excellence tutorial program that was held at Garfield and the former Lincoln elementary schools; a coat and shoe distribution available to men, women and children in need; a summer food program for youth; and the Greater Steubenville Community Development Corporation founded in 2005 that seeks to build new homes in the downtown Steubenville area.

Kirtdoll said one lesson she has learned in her years as community developer is that small changes are the goal. "That's where your successes are. Take what you have and build on that."

Kirtdoll gravitates toward the people interaction of the position, not the report filing and the computer presence the job has more of now.

"These day I spend a lot of time on the computer, and I don't want to do that, I want to be planning, and if I could sit and plan and talk and somebody else do the computer end, fine," she said.

The mission has applied to Global Ministries for a replacement.

"They are looking for a person to send here on a trial basis and see if they fit in the needs of the community," she said.

As for the Frank Sinatra song, Kirtdoll said it parallels her personal growth and achievements as she grew from someone without dreams and direction to someone focused and fruitful.

"As I grew older," she said, "I became really aware and realized I knew more than I thought I knew ... and I liked being me."

Getting involved was the springboard.

And seeing others come on board to do likewise in the community pleases Kirtdoll.

"To be able to call on the community and for the community to respond has probably been my greatest joy."

Her greatest achievement, she added, has been being accepted by the community.

"You have to build a trust of the people and a respect, have the community think of me or recognize me as a resource person they can depend on for development and leadership," Kirtdoll said.

"It's been a joy to gain the support of the community."

One of the facets of community development is giving a program to a community to take ownership of it.

"I feel like I met a lot of needs. I get that affirmation," Kirtdoll said.

(Kiaski can be contacted at

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