Former addict wins volunteer award

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sharon Davis enters information into a computer about the food giveaway at her church. She volunteers in numerous capacities at her church and in the community.

Sharon Davis enters information into a computer about the food giveaway at her church. She volunteers in numerous capacities at her church and in the community.

Suffolk’s Sharon Davis is a super-volunteer in the community, but sometimes she has to pinch herself to make sure she’s not still in prison.

She’s on the resident council for Hoffler Apartments, sits on the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority board for family self-sufficiency, serves on the Choice Neighborhood Grant Committee, is president of the pastor’s aid committee at her church, heads up the food distribution there, volunteers for Probation and Parole to help prevent recidivism among its clients, works with the American Diabetes Association to promote healthy eating, sits on the advisory council for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and mentors young people and adults.

“I didn’t realize how full my plate was until I sat down and wrote it all out,” she admitted recently.

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For her efforts, Davis will be among many honored by VOLUNTEER Hampton Roads at an April 9 dinner at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. The annual awards banquet will recognize several individuals, families, groups, military units and organizations working to improve their communities.

But Davis didn’t always have volunteer opportunities and awards banquets to look forward to. The Suffolk native dropped out of school after her first year at Nansemond River High School. At age 15, Davis was pregnant with a daughter whose grandmother raised her because Davis was abusing drugs and alcohol. Davis would become homeless and do a five-year stint in prison before finally turning her life around about six years ago.

“I honestly feel everything I have been through to where God has brought me is a living testament to help someone else,” Davis said. “God has shown me the opportunity to get my life together so I can give back.”

Even after Davis turned her life around, there were more setbacks. The drug abuse had masked symptoms of a large brain tumor until she passed out at the mailbox after being clean for several months. The tumor was removed during emergency surgery, but the episode prevented her from working.

But she didn’t let anything discourage her. Discouragement causes a lot of recidivism, she said.

“If they can’t find a job or a stable place to live, they return to what they know, and before you know it they’re right back in jail,” she said. “But we can help stop the revolving door of going back and forth to jail.”

That’s why she’s so passionate about her work mentoring others. A recently ordained minister at her church, Suffolk Christian Fellowship Ministries, she’s able to help guide their spiritual life or simply help them apply for jobs.

“It wasn’t until I joined this church that I was able to find my niche,” she said. “In the process of helping others, you learn a lot about yourself.”

She can develop a rapport with others because she has been there, she said.

“A lot of things, I did because I didn’t think I had a choice,” she said. “I see me in so many different people.”

Davis has gone back to school for substance abuse counseling and hopes to be able to help others avoid some of the pitfalls she endured. She’s also working on getting workforce development resources in the community centers of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority neighborhoods to help empower adults to become self-sufficient.

Davis also now treasures a good relationship with her daughter, now 25, and other family members.

She said her volunteer work helps keep her busy but also hopes it helps others.

“It brings me so much joy to know I’m able to give so much back,” she said. “It blows me away. Sometimes I look at my life and say, ‘This is not my life.’ I have to pinch myself.”

For more information about the VOLUNTEER Hampton Roads event or to purchase tickets, visit www.volunteerhr.org/hrvaa.