by Anna T. Collins, Esquire (Portland, Maine)
On May 27, 2006, a powerful earthquake in the Indian Ocean shook the region surrounding the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. The immediate death toll was close to 6,000, with over 37,000 injured and 1 million people displaced. Following the earthquake, large charities rushed in to provide shelter and food. But once those charities had left, there were many schools that needed to be rebuilt. Sharon Bloodworth, a co-manager of $200 million in investment assets at White Oaks Wealth Advisors, Inc. in Minneapolis, jumped at the opportunity to fund the rebuilding of one such school – Sophia’s Sunshine School.
Opened exactly one year after the quake and named after Sharon’s daughter, Sophia’s Sunshine School provides 50 students each year with access to what Sharon calls “the great equalizer” – education. Sharon has always received great pleasure from doing acts of kindness, but explains that growing up in Central Africa, Indonesia, Europe, and the U.S. taught her that “education can raise you out of poverty, hunger, and intolerance.” Sharon describes her funding of the school, which is likely to educate 500 children over the next 10 years, as one of the highlights of her life. “Whenever I get to talk about it or think about it,” she explains “it evokes exactly the same feeling as the butterflies you get when you are first in love.”
Sharon’s own educational background has been a vital component of her success in the financial industry. Originally from the United Kingdom, she graduated from the University of Wales, College of Cardiff with a Bachelor’s Degree of Science of Economics in European Community Studies. She also received the Certificate of International Business Practice from Oxford University through the Lord Mountbatten Program. Her background and fluency in several languages brings an international flair to her work and an appreciation for how everyone can have a hand in making someone else’s life better.
Funding Sophia’s Sunshine School was not an easily affordable venture for Sharon. “I live in a pretty modest home and have lots of things I would like to do to it,” she explains “but the choice between improving the material things in my life and making a material improvement in the lives of others was an easy choice to make.” At White Oaks Wealth Advisors, where the minimum account size is $1 million, Sharon has had a front seat to “seeing vast wealth and the joy and difficulty it can bring”. When reflecting upon why Sophia’s Sunshine School is named after her daughter, Sharon focuses on a desire to pass on both “money values and the value of kindness” to her daughter while she is still young. “She has not experienced my upbringing of seeing hungry children,” Sharon explains “I wanted to name the school after her as the first part of my legacy to her and hope that she will continue to pay the kindness forward.”
Sharon’s motivation is not only personal, but is also about building cultural bridges. Sharon believes there has been an increasing anti-American sentiment in Indonesia. “I wanted the people of Indonesia, especially the little children, to see this act of kindness and remember the United States kindly. I also wanted them to know I had a lovely lucky little beautiful daughter, who knows how much she has in life and wants to help others”.
When Sophia’s Sunshine school opened, Sharon did not want to go to the opening. “I did not want to be thanked,” she explains. Sharon’s father, who has lived in Indonesia since her childhood, did attend the opening and could not believe his eyes. “They put on an incredible show for him,” Sharon describes “they all greeted him with flowers and an elaborate U.S. style marching band with simple instruments. It was one of my father’s best life experiences. The whole village turned out to say thank you. My father gave a speech and asked me what I wanted to communicate to them. I told him to tell them that the money to build the kindergarten had come with love from the U.S.”
Sharon is planning to visit Sophia’s Sunshine School for the first time this year. One of the challenges for the school has been that there are far more children who need education than the school can accommodate. During her upcoming visit, Sharon hopes to see how she might help the parents of those children improve their economic lives. “I feel so gifted to have received the education and life experiences I have that I think it would be a waste to not use it for good,” Sharon concludes “people think that only Oprah can do things like this and it’s not true. Everyone can have a hand in making someone else’s life better. It is my life goal to build another nine schools”. In light of her background and commitment to helping others, it is easy to envision Sharon’s goal becoming a reality.