For as long as most folks can remember, Sharon Kilfoy has had a pervasive presence at the Center for Families through her many contributions as an artist and community activist. This long relationship with the greater Madison community is echoed in countless contributions over almost three decades of service to the agency now known as the Center for Families, and its pre-2011-merger predecessor groups — the Respite Center, the Exchange Center for Child Abuse Prevention, and Family Enhancement.
On Aug. 14, in a month that also marked her retirement from the Center, Kilfoy was among those honored with a “Good People” award at the Center for Families’ “Paint the Town Blue” event. In presenting her with this award, co-worker Fay McClurg characterized Kilfoy’s accomplishments this way: “Sharon is a visual artist. Her works brighten our hallways and make Center for Families a place that not only feels good but looks good. Sharon is a writer. Her words show a passion when she writes about vulnerable children and families. Her sentences are clear and straightforward when writing policy and procedures. She is always grammatically correct.
“Sharon is a teacher,” McClurg continued. “You can see her influence in the child care program of the Respite Center, in the children’s art on the walls of Center for Families, and in the murals she paints that decorate the city. Sharon is as Sharon does.”
On Aug. 30, Sharon Kilfoy used one of her many highly developed talents — her gift as a writer — in bidding farewell to her colleagues at the Center — co-workers who had become like family. Here it is:
Dear Center for Families staff,
I am writing to you today as it is my last day at Center for Families. I began working for the Respite Center in 1986 as a child care specialist. With a background in philosophy and art, it was a bit of a mystery that I got hired in the first place. It seemed that as I was raising my four children down the street from the Respite Center’s first home on Willy St (across from the CC Rider’s motorcycle clubhouse) and was taking care of some of the same neighborhood kids as the Respite Center, it was decided to pay me to take care of other people’s kids and make sure I knew what I was doing. I sure learned a lot!
Taking care of kids was always second nature to me, so that wasn’t a challenge – but knowing when to say “NO” didn’t come as easily. Family Service Workers not only taught me about supporting parents as well as kids, they insisted that I check with them before going to kids birthday parties, agreeing to teach kids how to swim, etc.
After 4 or 5 years, I became the program manager for the Respite Center’s child care program and I continued in that capacity for 15 or so years. I grew in my understanding of how to build resiliency in people as the program grew. We developed a curriculum and training program for caring for kids in crisis that I believe will stand the test of time.
My happiest days here were probably those when I still had one shift per week in the child care area. Once my job became purely administration and management, I really missed being with kids. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in the importance of training adults to do this most important of work, but — maybe kids are just more fun.
In any case, I started painting murals and teaching kids art on the side. After a while, I began to reduce my hours here as I was doing more art. I continued on that path for quite a few years. I have always been eternally grateful to have had a job that let me incrementally reduce my work load as I became more involved in my work in the community.
Eventually, the time came when I could no longer do the administrative parts of my job — I was writing grants along with writing policy and program development by then —and continue to manage the child care program. So I gave up management for administration. I remember so well when my staff came to me and asked, ‘Why did you choose writing policy over us?’ and I replied, ‘Do you really think it was my choice?’
After that, I missed all the fun of being with kids, but I worked with kids and people in the community, and continued to be able to be part of an organization which I believe can truly make a difference in the lives of people. I believe that I became a better writer as this became the focus of my work for Center for Families.
I have been excited to be part of the new organization that came out of the merging of the Respite Center, Family Enhancement, and the Exchange Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse. I know that we have only begun to skim the surface in terms of where this new entity can go. As I have gotten to know the “upstairs” programs, I see an immense amount of potential in Center for Families’ ability to positively affect the lives of people in this community.
So, it is time to move on. I will miss all of you and have been very happy to have worked here with you. I am leaving a part of myself here through the work that I have done, through you who share in the mission of that work, and in my art that is here that I hope will brighten your day.
Stay in touch with Sharon at the website www.willyart.net or at firstname.lastname@example.org or (608)658-3736.