Sharon loves to tell stories, sing songs and make others shine. She is especially inspired by people who need affection and support.
When Sharon came to live at L’Arche Jacksonville (then known as Harbor House) as a young woman in 1986, she saw it as an adventure. “My dad and stepmom had moved from Jacksonville to the lake (in Keystone Heights), and I had to go with them,” she explains. “In wintertime, you can’t go swimming. There’s no grocery stores or anything. I was bored. Finally, I said, ‘Dad, is it OK if I move out’ I can come down anytime to visit and help with the grass and stuff. He was surprised at first. But they’re glad we found Harbor House because I’m happy here.”
Born with cerebral palsy and a mild intellectual disability, Sharon will always walk with a limp. She struggles with her weight, laughs often and has a strong maternal streak. “Sharon is a nurturer,” notes Sr. Rita of L’Arche, who helps Sharon and her roommate Mary maintain a high degree of independence at the community’s Supported Living home, Prayer House. “She loves working with the little ones at her volunteer jobs. She loves walking over to the other L’Arche houses for a visit. She especially loves helping anyone in the community who needs help most. She’s like that about Pam, for example.”
Pam, one of the least independent core members at L’Arche Harbor House, is a focus of Sharon’s compassion. “Pammy broke her hip,” she explains. “I go over and just be with her because she can’t talk. She can’t say anything, but she loves you with her eyes.”
For many years, Sharon has also shared her gifts with the greater community. In 2007, she accepted Volunteer Jacksonville’s “Willing and Able Heart of Gold Award” for her outstanding and devoted service at Dignity U Wear. Currently, she works the Monday through Friday lunch detail in the cafeteria at Christ the King School. She also volunteers as an aide in the childcare center next door. “On Wednesday morning starting at 9 o’clock, I help with the little children,” she says. “Take them outside, let them play. Then bring ‘em in and read books to them. What they really like is The Cat in the Hat, and also a book about three little pigs.”
Sharon has lived in four different houses since she came to L’Arche. She likes her present situation best. “Because it’s quieter,” she explains. “When Mary comes home from work (at The Arc), her and I do stuff. Lindsey (a L’Arche assistant) takes us grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon. I rake the front yard, clean my room, clean the house, go for walks. I visit the other houses, too. It’s nice.”
“Sharon has shown an aptitude for independence,” adds Sr. Rita. “She budgets and manages her own money, paying essential bills from her checking account. There’s someone with Sharon and Mary for safety, but they handle many things by themselves. For example, they’ll phone to schedule a city van so they can work out at the YMCA.”
For Sharon, the pace and diversity of activities in her life at L’Arche are stimulating. She especially enjoys playing an angel in the community’s Living Nativity each Christmas, leading the morning prayer service on Thursdays, and participating in Community Nights once a month. “It’s never boring around here!” she says with a laugh. “You’ve got to get away sometimes just to find some REST.”
Now when she spends the weekend in Keystone Heights, she has lots to talk about. Her favorite trip home is in June. That’s the month her parents, Ida and Robert, host their annual lakeside picnic, a day of good food, swimming, sunshine and fun for Sharon’s extended L’Arche family.
In loving memory of Sharon Starling (December 24, 1951 – April 14, 2015)