Pictures and knickknacks line her shelves, alongside the dried flowers from her children’s first bouquets and little bags of m&ms from her son’s graduation.
“This is my world, this is my impact, and I like to surround myself with it,” Hillsdale Community Foundation President Sharon Bisher said. “Each of these knickknacks represents a time in my life, and they have meaning for me. It’s about a conversation I had, or a relationship, or some impact that we had on each other.”
Bisher has worked at the Hillsdale Community Foundation for 18 years, helping the town where she grew up and raised her own children.
“I’m a sucker, I want to save the world,” Bisher said. “I still believe in utopia, that if we hold hands and work together and show up, we can make the world a better place. I think that’s what keeps me going… Every day I come work to make a difference, and I change our community.”
Bisher is a familiar figure in the community: She can’t shop at the grocery store without being ambushed with questions about the foundation.
“I am the walking foundation,” Bisher said, laughing.
The foundation has funnelled $9.8 million into Hillsdale’s community through grants and scholarships since 1991, 98 percent of which came from private donors. Over the years, Bisher has helped everyone and everything from firefighters to fireworks, students to senior centers, homeless people to historical societies.
“There’s not a facet in our community that we don’t touch,” Bisher said.
This is Bisher’s “perfect job,” and one which she once dreamed of getting, Bisher said.
“This was always my dream job to work nonprofit and give back to our community,” Bisher said. “My mom was a single parent, so we grew up in low income and really saw the benefits of all of the resources that the community nonprofits provide.”
Her childhood gave her a perspective that made her want to help others in a similar predicament, said Bisher.
“I really don’t want to tell my poverty story… but I understand the poverty mindset,” Bisher said. “I grew up in it, and I understand that Hillsdale County is really a wide spread of the have and have nots, and that there is not a lot of middle ground.”
The foundation collects data on the community’s needs, and Bisher said she is trying to fight high rates of generational poverty, substance abuse, and neglect in Hillsdale. The foundation supported Hillsdale’s new drug court, and it is currently partnering with schools to introduce counselors for students.
“We need to change the cycle, and show our community that there is a different way,” Bisher said.
Bisher’s heart lies with the schools and youth leaders, and much of her time has gone into helping uplift the next generation.
“I’m really impassioned about youth leadership,” Bisher said. “I think they are our future. We want to raise up young people who have a heart of philanthropy and create life-long givers.”
As the past president of the Hillsdale Community Foundation Youth Board, Hillsdale native and senior Kelsey Lantis worked with Bisher and the board to create awareness initiatives. For one initiative, they gave children the opportunity to live as a homeless youth for 24 hours.
“I was a teenager and someone who didn’t wield a lot of power besides having my driver’s license, but she gave myself and all the other kids on the student board the opportunity to be instruments of change in our community,” Lantis said.
Working with Bisher and the foundation changed the course of Lantis’ career plans: Lantis said she wants to pursue a career in Child Protective Services.
“I was unaware of the needs in my community before joining the Community Foundation Youth Board,” Lantis said. “Mrs. Bisher was someone who encouraged myself and the other students to think big, to be honest about the issues we seen in our school’s hallways, and come up with ideas on how to change them.”
As the years have passed, Bisher has realized that she cannot always change everything.
“The passion that makes me successful also breaks my heart. You can see the needs, and sometimes it’s so hard because you want to help so badly and there is not quite enough,” Bisher said. “You want to scream goodness. But every day is a gift, and you have to use its opportunity to help others.”
That optimism is often the first thing people mention while describing Bisher.
“She is a very cheery, stand-up individual that cares about her community and loves her family,” said Director of Community Programs Susan Stout. “We’ve been through a lot together, professionally and personally.”
Stout began working with Bisher 13 years ago, and they have shopped together, scrapbooked their kids childhoods’ together, and together they have continued to work to change Hillsdale.
“Don’t get me wrong, there are some major challenges that can get you down,” Bisher said. “But I think that the purpose of the Community Foundation is to provide hope for the community. However we can, we have to bring about that positive message.”