Black Philanthropy Month Spotlight: Sharon Jones

Aug 21, 2023

Part 1 in our series celebrating this year’s Black Philanthropy Month theme, “Love in Action.” 

Growing up in Stamford, Sharon Jones recognized the benefits of hard work, kindness and giving to others from a young age. She and her two younger brothers were taught early to value hard work and earning money from their parents who owned a vibrant residential and commercial cleaning business which often found the siblings working for the family business.

“We grew up very fortunate,” said Jones, currently serving as FCCF’s Grants Associate, responsible for overseeing and coordinating strategic grantmaking processes.

Reflecting further on the profound example her family’s Black-owned business had on her, she shared that she and her siblings “saw hard work in action. If there were hardships growing up, as kids, we didn’t see it. We were taught that being a blessing to others would return goodness back to you.”

This philosophy was also a foundational principle of her larger community, including her extended family and her family’s church. Through selfless volunteer work at food pantries, homeless shelters, outreach street ministry and other acts of service, Jones observed the embodiment of the word “philanthropy” – a love for humanity.

This ethos of “love in action” was also personified by her Aunt Mary Lou Harris. Adopting five children and tirelessly seeking ways to assist those less fortunate, Aunt Mary Lou’s devotion left an indelible mark on Sharon’s heart.

One poignant example of her aunt’s benevolence was “The Love House,” an apartment Mary Lou rented to offer immediate, cost-free housing for up to five women post-incarceration. This personal project was born of a desire to help facilitate a smoother reintegration into the community and receive support from Mary Lou’s church family and word-of-mouth referrals. Notably, Love House even housed pregnant women, an especially vulnerable group during that phase of their lives.

“My aunt always had an open door,” Jones reflected, recalling the physical and symbolic welcome her aunt extended. She vividly remembers questioning her aunt about her immense dedication to others. Aunt Mary Lou’s response was simple yet profound: “You can never truly know when you’ve done enough.”

These instances of compassion fueled Jones throughout her life journey. Following her graduation from a local Catholic high school, a choice driven by her mother’s belief in expanding her opportunities, Jones enrolled at Norwalk Community College. During this time, she balanced her studies with a role as a scheduler for a homecare agency, all while raising her two children, Jade and Cameron.

Presently the longest-serving staff member at the Community Foundation, Jones joined FCCF in 2008 as a program administrative assistant. The organization’s mission deeply resonated with her, opening her eyes to the extensive positive work underway across the broader community.

“My eyes were quickly opened to the many programs and organizations serving people in the area,” said Jones who was eager to contribute her time and knowledge to sharing the opportunities with those who could benefit. “There is an African American proverb I believe in deeply – that ‘each one, teach one’ –which means that when we learn something that can help someone else, we are obligated to pass on that knowledge. FCCF allowed me to help put that into action.”

Jones emphasized that her role at FCCF offered not only a platform for contribution but also an opportunity to pursue higher education. In 2013, alongside her full-time position, Sharon engaged in the Family Economic Success Program (FESP), an initiative conceived, launched, and co-funded by FCCF’s Fund for Women and Girls to support working students attain postsecondary degrees and certifications.

“While I didn’t complete my degree during my time with FESP, the program propelled me forward and equipped me with vital professional and life skills,” Jones recounted. She continues to nurture her aspiration of becoming a teacher or a social worker and holds onto the vision of completing her degree in the future.

Over her 15-year tenure at FCCF, Jones has witnessed the evolution of the Community Foundation, observing firsthand the impact made possible through the contributions of donors, business partners, and the network of nonprofit partners spanning the region. Moreover, she possesses a profound understanding of the many individuals working behind the scenes to realize these outcomes — and recognizes the significance of listening to their voices.

“I have seen a shift over the years to really invite and listen to the community. Despite hardships and barriers, they know best what they need to achieve success and help the most people ” said Jones who is hopeful about FCCF’s Fairfield County Forward strategic plan. “In order to be effective, we need to create programs to meet those expressed needs, and not come from a place where we think we know best.”

Looking forward, Sharon has faith in more impact to come. “I want to see more examples of black success, black excellence and black growth within our communities. To me, that’s community love in action.”