Groups help young mother earn a degree
ELKINS — There are many resources available for young people looking to find a path to success in life. YouthBuild North Central and AmeriCorps cleared such a trail for Elkins resident Sharell Harmon, who recently earned a degree from West Virginia University.
Harmon, who received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Political Science from WVU on May 15, was a single mother when she dropped out of college during her first attempt at secondary education, back in 2013.
That’s when she decided to move from Virginia to Elkins in an attempt to change things in her life for the better.
“I moved to Elkins and needed some help to get back on my feet, so a case worker at the state Department of Health and Human Resources asked me if I wanted to join YouthBuild,” said Harmon. “I didn’t know what YouthBuild was, but on the flyer it asked if you wanted to help people, and I said, ‘oh my God, yes I want to join them.'”
Harmon fell into the 25 percent ratio that is allowed to have a high school diploma and join YouthBuild and AmeriCorps, so she signed on.
“My life changed forever when I went to YouthBuild,” said Harmon. “When I joined YouthBuild I also joined AmeriCorps. So I got to travel all over the United States telling my story of being a young mother who left Virginia and moved to West Virginia to rehabilitate my life financially and professionally. Through that type of work in public speaking and leadership, I decided to stay on with AmeriCorps after I graduated from YouthBuild.”
While working with YouthBuild and AmeriaCorps, Harmon helped build houses for low income families. On the leadership side of her work she spent time traveling and working with other young people, teaching them how to tell their story, which could help the next young person.
In 2018, she attended a Global International Conference of young leaders through YouthBuild USA in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Young leaders from Brazil, Haiti, Jordan, the U.K. Canada and El Salvador were among the 13 different countries represented. Harmon was just one of two people selected to represent the United States.
“We had translators helping us talk to people from other countries,” she said. “It was a really magical experience being around all of those young leaders from different countries.”
During her time with the organizations, Harmon continued to travel to places across the U.S. to share her inspirational story with others.
“YouthBuild and AmeriCorps introduced me to organizations and partners in Elkins that motivate and encourage post secondary education,” she said. “You just hang around people who have a quality of life that inspires you to just keep going and follow your dreams.”
Harmon earned her degree from WVU while raising three children; she drove to Morgantown for classes three days a week during the last two years. Her connections with YouthBuild and AmeriCorps once again helped with some of that burden.
“I was working with Starbucks and their young leaders council in Seattle and they gave me $10,000, but said $5,000 had to be used for educational expenses,” said Harmon. “So I wrote them letting them know how I would have to travel in order to get the degree I wanted. So they told me to take $5,000 and get a car to commute to college. So the actual car that got me back and forth to college was purchased by Starbucks.”
Harmon actually had three job offers while still in school at WVU and eventually accepted a position with Philanthropy West Virginia, where she is currently employed.
“I was about a month out of graduating and had to choose between the three,” said Harmon. “I’m the membership and operations assistant at Philanthropy West Virginia. It’s mostly human resources, so I’ll be handling their invoices and being a voice for them on the front lines.”
Harmon said she has a message for all those thinking of giving YouthBuild and Americorps a try: “Do it, don’t hesitate and go into it wholeheartedly and accept everything that happens,” she said. “Be open and accept what chooses you, whether it’s a job, whether it’s new friends, or whether it’s a new opportunity in a new state. If it chooses you just don’t be scared, but go into it open and free.”
Harmon currently resides in Elkins with her three children, Nehemiah, 11, Saniah,10, and Jaidyn, 6.