Sullivan Honors Shari Daugherty as “Alaskan of the Week”

WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Shari Daugherty, of Homer, who founded “Share the Spirit” back in 1992, a community-driven nonprofit that provides all of the ingredients of a proper Christmas celebration—including a full meal and presents—for less-fortunate families and children. Daugherty is retiring from the program and from her job as a medical biller at South Peninsula Hospital this year, but will be handing on the reins for “Share the Spirit” to a new generation of leaders. Daugherty was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Tribute to Shari Daugherty 

Mr. President, it is Thursday. The Senate is still very busy here. We have a lot of work to do, as we are all trying to get home for the holidays. And I thought it was still the appropriate time to come down and talk about somebody who is making our State such a great State, somebody who is contributing to the community, somebody who I refer to as our Alaskan of the Week.

Now, we have been doing this for, gosh, going on almost 6 years, maybe 5 years. But it is always one of my favorite times of week, even when the speech is late. So I appreciate the majority leader and the Presiding Officer letting us stay open here for one more speech. And I know the pages--I mean, they love the Alaskan of the Week. So this is a little bit of a treat. 

But I always start this speech with a little bit of an update on what is going on in Alaska. So right now, Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow--that is Point Barrow. That is the northern most community in North America. They haven't seen the sun in nearly a month. The sun went down, and it is not rising again until January 23. So they get a lot of darkness. There are 66 days of darkness. Great people up there. Wonderful people up there. I love it up there.

We have had some pretty significant cold spells already. That, for now, doesn't seem to be lifting. It was 40 below 0 in Fairbanks yesterday. In Anchorage, the high was 4 degrees above 0. Forty below is chilly. Tough people throughout the State. Four degrees above is pretty cold for Anchorage.

But everybody is excited because Christmas is right around the corner, and it is, of course, a great time to be in Alaska. We do have a place--I was just talking with the Presiding Officer and the majority leader. We have a great community in Interior Alaska called North Pole, AK. Santa actually lives there. We have a city council member in North Pole named Santa Claus, and a reindeer there. 

And, of course, I am like everybody else here, looking forward to getting home, going to Midnight Mass, eating my special Alaska seafood Newburg, having friends over, and family, of course. And I think we all know we are very fortunate. I, certainly, believe I am a very blessed man.

And we are blessed in Alaska because of people like Shari Daugherty, who is our Alaskan of the Week. And so I want to talk a little bit about Shari because what she has done is literally the definition of the Christmas spirit.

For the last month, as she has done for the last 30 years, she has been working pretty much around the clock, volunteering her time for the nonprofit Share the Spirit. Share the Spirit--that is the nonprofit that Shari helped found in 1992--30 years. 

Share the Spirit's mission is to make sure that hundreds of less fortunate families in Homer, AK, her hometown, get all of the ingredients for a proper Christmas dinner and presents for the kids.

Share the Spirit--it sounds pretty simple, but, as you can imagine, this is no easy task. And Shari would tell you that it involves so many others in Homer to make sure that the children in the community, who might not otherwise have anything under the tree, can experience the magic of Christmas that every child deserves. 

So who is Shari, this great volunteer who has been doing incredible work in Homer? Originally from Chico, CA, Shari and her parents moved to Homer when she was in the 10th grade. Her father was a fisherman.

And for those of you who have been to Homer or want to come to Homer, I will tell you, it is one of the most stunningly beautiful places in all of America--really, in all of the world. It is known as the ``Halibut Fishing Capital of the World.'' But anyone who goes there falls in love with Homer. It is surrounded by the glistening waters of Kachemak Bay, jagged mountains, glaciers, snowcapped volcanoes, and a great tight-knit community. 

After college at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Shari moved around a little. But in 1991, she came back home with her daughter. She did so because she had family there in Homer. And even if she didn't, as she put it, she had a whole town full of family in Homer.

Now, volunteering was in her blood. She said her mom stressed the importance of giving back to the community since she was a young girl. So she almost immediately joined the Emblem Club. That is the unofficial auxiliary of the Elks. And during one of their first meetings, it was announced that a Christian minister's group that every year provided food and presents for people in the community was actually going to disband.

A meeting was called. The talking lasted for a very long time--at such volunteer meetings, that can happen, of course--until Shari finally cut in and said: Hey, guys, we are really burning daylight here. Here is what needs to happen: We need to form a committee, form a plan, form a nonprofit, and get busy--get busy.

And as such things go, she and another woman, Norma Foust, were put in charge. And boy, did they make a difference. That year, with Christmas only weeks away, a nonprofit was formed and a fundraiser to organize with the help of a strong community. They put together 57 baskets of food: turkey, stuffing, potato, sugar, salt, eggs, celery, pie crusts, cards with recipes on them--all the fixings for a nice Christmas dinner. And then there were the presents for more than 100 children. There were 220 gifts that first year, 30 years ago.

And the program has grown ever since. Hundreds of families each year are referred to Shari's program by social agencies, including food banks and anywhere people go for help. The information is passed on to Shari and the whole Share the Spirit team. Each family is identified by their needs: a family of three, say, with a 4-year-old girl who needs boots and would like a princess costume. They are then assigned a number that goes onto a Christmas decoration and put on one of the numerous trees posted by local businesses in Homer. Homer residents pick up a decoration and buy the presents. It is pretty well organized.

And Shari and the volunteers then get busy organizing a huge spaghetti feed to raise the funds, and then they go shopping for the food. 

A few days before Christmas, the group stages the location, normally at the high school. The presents and the food baskets are then disbursed. 

As I mentioned, Shari has done this for 30 years--30 years--and throughout the years, many stories and people stand out.

This is Alaska. So, of course, this was the year of the huge blizzard. Nobody could drive. So they enlisted a club of snow machine riders to deliver the presents and the food throughout the area.

There is the woman who now lives in Pennsylvania, who lived in Homer for a while, with a young child. That child, because of the group, was able to experience Christmas. And now, like clockwork, this woman sends a quarterly donation to Share the Spirit. 

You see how the spirit is literally being shared all over the country: Alaska, Homer, Pennsylvania.

There are many people now adults, some with children of their own, who got help, who got presents because of Share the Spirit and are now regular volunteers. Shari knows of many people who got presents as children because of her group's efforts and decided to stay in Homer, have families of their own, and now help out at Share the Spirit. She said: They decided that this is where they were going to live. This is the town they are going to live in and to contribute to, because this is the place that took care of them when they were young and needed it. 

Shari is retiring this year from both the program and from her job as a medical biller at South Peninsula Hospital. She will be leaving Share the Spirit in good hands, though: Kelly Glidden, who began volunteering as a sixth grader in 1993; John Adams, who started when he was 8 years old volunteering; and Emmy Olsem Drye, who has been involved in Share the Spirit since she was 3, and who is also Shari's daughter. They will take on the mantle of this great volunteer effort, focused on the Christmas spirit, that Shari started. 

And there are those who have been there since the beginning: DeeDee Shoultz and Fran Van Sandt.

And then there is the great community of Homer--a community that takes care of its own.

So thank you, Shari, for all you have done throughout the years--three decades to keep the Christmas spirit alive. Thank you for making our State a much better place, a more generous place, a caring place for all, and touching the lives of so many, and especially for making sure that children in Homer and across Alaska--and really across America--experience the joy and the magic of Christmas. Congratulations, Shari, on being our Alaskan of the Week, and Merry Christmas.

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