Sharon Bisher is Pres­ident of the Hillsdale Com­munity Foun­dation. Sharon Bisher | Courtesy

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.”