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Volunteer, activist, educator, non-profit leader, elected official and small business owner are the broad titles Sharon Richards has carried during her life in Alaska. In all of her roles, Richards has reached out to people from minority communities and has been a tenacious advocate for women, children and families. Richards has led a life of non-profit leadership and volunteerism which has inspired many. She is a quiet leader who looks for people’s strengths. She believes in a public process which involves all people, not just the well connected. In 1988 Richards worked with a group of women to establish a YWCA in Anchorage, resigning as president of the organizing board to become is first executive director and growing the organization for the next 14 years from a staff of one to a staff of 14 operating out of their own building – Richards retired in 2002.
Prior to the YWCA, Richards was director of Community Relations at United Way and trained hundreds of non-profit boards of directors from across Alaska in legal and financial responsibilities. She also taught that studying issues made people informed voters and participants in society which turned them into leaders. She encouraged young women and minorities to take charge of their lives, to develop small businesses and to ecome college and/or career educated in order to become better leaders. Through this work, Richards has served as a role model for young women in the community who aspire to public service and political positions.
Before moving to Alaska, Richards had worked as a classroom language-arts teacher for junior-high-aged students. In 1967 she made the transition to Anchorage with her first husband and 18-month-old son – she also was four months pregnant with her daughter. This is when her life-long commitment to volunteerism and training others to become community and business leaders began. During this beginning she also had a third child, a son.
Early in her career, Richards worked as director of the Volunteer Center during Mayor Tony Knowles’ administration. In this capacity she established the annual city-wide volunteer recognition and Volunteer Service Awards. For six years she served on an Anchorage School District committee that dealt with minority concerns. After chairing it she was appointed and then elected to the Anchorage School Board where she served nearly eight years (1988-1995) twice elected president by her colleagues. She also served as secretary-treasurer for the state-wide Alaska Association of School Boards.
Some of her other community commitments have included: president of many organizations including the League of Women Voters, KAKM, Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club, Association of Non-Profit Corporations and the Anchorage Association of Volunteer Administrators plus chair of the Anchorage Daily News Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund. She was also on the boards of directors of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Community Foundation. Because of Richards leadership and hard work she received the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA award in 1999; the YWCA Women of Achievement Award in 1998; the Citizen of the Year Award from the Alaska Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in 1994 and was recognized by LULAC, a Latino organization for outstanding commitment, involvement and contribution to the minority community in 1986.
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/TB3EgTkY800
2000 ATHENA Society Directory, Profiles in Leadership