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Conversations with Sharon Cantrell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sharon Cantrell. 

Hi Sharon, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Almost twenty years ago, I moved to the Kansas City area. As a social worker, (after my husband, had already started volunteering) I began to volunteer at the Micah Ministry, Independence Boulevard Christian Church (DOC). It is a holistic ministry serving the neighbors. My involvement caused me to go to seminary, Central Baptist Theological Seminary when I was 61 yrs. of age (in 2005). My husband and I have been Co-Directors for some time now and I serve as the Micah pastor. 

Until the pandemic, we served 500 people over 1000 meals each Monday evening. That all changed with the pandemic. We adapted, began serving hot meals in take-away containers. We opened the front door to continue to offer clothing, blankets, tents. We also offer hygiene and toilet paper, bread, and drinks. We are currently handing out 525 plus meals each Monday. We partner with Care Beyond the Boulevard for free medical care. 

The largest number of our guests come from close to the church and walk, but others come by bus, and a few by car. 

The makeup of our guests has changed significantly since the pandemic began. Where we once seated and fed people, roughly 15% or more were unsheltered. Today perhaps that number is reversed and 85% are without adequate shelter and food. 

My role has been to combine my years of social work knowledge with pastoring to be a listening Presence to those who come. I can fix very little in their lives but I can listen, refer when I know where to turn, I spend time fundraising, grant writing, and interagency coordination to provide the needs of our neighbors. 

In my past years, I worked for both Missouri and Montana as a child abuse investigative social worker. I also worked in the Psychiatric hospital field and in the HIV community. I also for a time was a program director in Child abuse prevention. I believe my accumulated experience brought me to this place of my heart and passion. 

my story could not be complete without mentioning my family which is the heart of my life. My husband Darrell of 59 years is the center of our family. We have three daughters, two sons-in-law, and a daughter-in-law. We have 10 grandchildren and have 11 great-grandchildren.  

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
My story is one of getting married very young, dropping out of college when the babies began to arrive. I returned to finish my BSW at age of 35. As a wife and mother of three, it was difficult. 

As the wife of a railroad exec, we moved often, each time to a new environment with no family or friends, and I had to create a home, settle children and find a new life. Often alone to raise our daughters as my husband traveled, I believe it caused me to be resilient and strong. 

Our family contributes to my well being as we are a rainbow coalition of diversity -I have husband of 59 years, we have three daughters, two sons in law, a daughter in law, ten grand children, and 11 great-grandchildren.  Our close knit family is the reason for my journey.  Our family has a lesbian daughter and is racially mixed as well.

We found a church home, created a family of friends who we were not related to but could count on. We created a life in each place we lived. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
When I graduated from Southwest Missouri State in 1979 at age of 35, I began working with the State of Missouri as a child abuse social worker and would do that for several years, even after moving to Montana. Moving to KC in 84, I needed to leave that field to be healthy, so I worked in several psych hospitals. I worked crisis line, admissions, crisis counseling. Eventually, I found the Child Abuse Prevention Coalition and loved training others to prevent and report abuse. It was during my time at the Coalition I decide to get my MPA from UMKC. I had completed 15 graduate hours when we were transferred to Texas. 

The Texas move brought me to the Samaritan House, a residential program for persons living with HIV and Aids and a new world opened to me that had begun years before when I briefly volunteered with an HIV program in KC. 

For the past 21 years, I have also run our company, Cantrell Rail Services. As president, I am responsible for operations. This small railroad track consulting firm, with my husband, has offered us worldwide opportunities for work and travel. 

I believe that the sum total of my life has been to work with people on the margins of life. From problem pregnancy counseling, crisis counseling, to all of the different areas I mentioned above, it has been a journey filled with empathy for those struggling to have a better life existence. 

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
What I love best about KC, is the duality of both country and city in close proximity. I can experience the city, with plays, restaurants, and cultural events, yet not drive far to see fields of crops or cows. I love the diversity of the city. There is every opportunity I would want to encounter. There are excellent medical facilities and doctors for my needs. 

Yet there is much lacking for people who live on the margins, for those who struggle to find shelter, food, medical care, other services. Life is not kind and lovely for those struggling with basic needs. There is a lack of sufficient affordable housing for the poor, treatment facilities for the mentally ill and those with addiction issues, and not nearly enough services to assist those who live on the edge. 

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