Catching up with Debbie Sharp
By Mike Steely
She’s one of those who stand behind their efforts, often out of sight, and modest in position. Debbie Sharp is the heart of the Knoxville Office of Neighborhoods.
Bet you didn’t know that Sharp was a Peace Corps volunteer with service in Turkey and Germany. She’s not a Knox County native but has immersed herself in our area, graduating from Central High School and attending the University of Tennessee.
She’s lived in California, Baltimore and Monterey and came to Knoxville with a world of experience.
The Knoxville Focus caught up with Debbie Sharp and asked her several questions.
What brought you to Knoxville?
My parents are both from Knoxville, but my father was in the military, so I grew up all over. I was born overseas. When my father retired from the military, we moved to Knoxville. I finished up high school at Central High School, went to the University of Tennessee, and then went into the Peace Corps in Ecuador. I moved back to Knoxville after the Peace Corps to get to know my roots.
Tell us about your family.
I have my parents still here. They are active and my strongest supporters. I have one sister who lives in Murfreesboro and works for the VA, two grown daughters (one that is kind and loving; the other is hard-working and tough), a nephew that is serving in the Army in Romania, and four granddaughters that are smart, active and amazing. I also have two dogs that make me laugh daily.
How did you become interested in public service and neighborhoods?
After I returned from the Peace Corps, I wanted to give back to my community and began volunteering at different non-profits. I volunteered at the Crisis Center, Catholic Charities, Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, Candoro Arts and Heritage Center, The League of Women Voters, South Knoxville Neighborhood and Business Coalition, and of course my neighborhood, South Woodlawn. In my neighborhood, I wanted to see the supportive community that I experienced in Ecuador, so I began walking my dog in the neighborhood. As I got to know my neighbors, some of us became friends. Initially what got me involved in my neighborhood organization was crime on my street. Then I learned that there was an organized group, so I joined and have been involved since.
What is your most memorable neighborhood event?
The most memorable project I was involved in with my neighborhood was getting certified as a Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. It took a lot of work, but we accomplished something to be proud of in the end. The neighborhood group had a celebration in spring of 2014 and that was very exciting for us. We had a lot of positive feedback from elected officials, school reps, neighbors, the city, etc. Later that year, I would begin my work at the Office of Neighborhoods.
Tell us about your duties.
In a nutshell, staff in the Office of Neighborhood Empowerment are the liaisons between neighborhoods and the city departments. If a neighborhood is having an issue with speeding, we help connect them to the engineers with the Neighborhood Traffic Safety Program. If they are having issues at their park, we can connect them with Parks and Rec. If there is crime, we can help them work with KPD. If they want to organize around fun programs, we also offer those as well, for example Healthy Knoxville, or becoming certified as a Wildlife Habitat. We also offer workshops on hot topics, hold an awards dinner, a resource fair, and sports events, like a Wiffleball Tournament, etc. All of these different ideas are aimed at getting different groups of people involved in the neighborhood. The more that are involved, it can make the neighborhood stronger and safer.
What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelor of Science in Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design and a Master of Science in Forest Recreation. I went into the Peace Corps in forestry. I worked with folks in the Andean Mountains to protect their forests, which protected the Andean Condor.
When I returned, I worked for the Crisis Center, Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center, Catholic Charities, Community Connections and then the City of Knoxville.
Tell us about your work in the City-County Building.
I love my job. I started out working as the Assistant Neighborhood Coordinator in fall of 2014. After David Massey retired, I was appointed by Mayor Rogero as the Neighborhood Coordinator in 2018. I love being able to help people engage in the democratic process. I like being able to see people get involved, feel heard, feel safe, and be able to accomplish things in their neighborhoods.
What are your hobbies?
I love to hike in the Urban Wilderness, tent camp with no cell service, read all kinds of books, and cook new creations. I have a new hobby; I have a motorcycle and am learning to ride it.
If you could have any other profession, what would that be?
I am an environmentalist at heart, so any field that protects the environment would be great for me, or I would love to walk dogs because that just sounds fun.
How would you like to be remembered?
I hope that people will remember the good work that I have always tried to do and how I try to treat everyone with respect. I hope people see that I try to be equitable and fair. In addition, I may not agree with someone, but I hope they feel heard. I can be quiet and introverted, but hopefully, some will remember my funny side too.