Uploaded: Friday, May 1, 2009, 9:36 AM
Sharon Hofstedt: Hot chocolate and community building
Cheerful extrovert loves matching people with their passions
|As a pre-teen in small-town Minnesota, Sharon Hofstedt delivered the Minneapolis Star Tribune door to door seven days a week.
"I knew everybody who was on my paper route intimately," she happily recalled recently. "You'd have to collect, and it would be freezing cold and they'd say, 'Come on in and have some hot chocolate.' That was one of my first moments of community, and I loved it."
A cheerful extrovert, Hofstedt credits her upbringing as the oldest of seven children in Mound, Minn., on Lake Minnetonka, with teaching her most of the important lessons in life.
"That's where I got my first sense of real community -- not just family community but the small-town community, and that has always stayed with me. Building that sense of community is what I'm really interested in."
She firmly believes that nonprofit organizations -- schools, theaters, senior centers, children's centers -- are the lifeblood of any community, connecting people, creating a sense of belonging, solving problems.
Beyond a full career in nursing -- including Stanford Hospital, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Sequoia and El Camino hospitals -- Hofstedt has spent decades building community through leadership on nonprofit boards.
She said she gravitates to the board governance, recruitment or nominating committees. Then she begins prowling among her contacts for people whose passion and skills match the needs of that particular organization.
"People always say to me I twist their arms; 'If you know Sharon, you're in trouble!'" she said.
Her board memberships have included Stanford University Hospital, Avenidas, Palo Alto Community Child Care, Samaritan House, Peninsula Stroke Association, American Heart Association and Shadhika Foundation.
Hofstedt learned a lesson of her own about community in the late 1970s when she accompanied her husband, Tom, who taught at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, for a teaching stint at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"My major prejudice had to do with southerners. It was the late '70s and sometimes you would still see 'colored' and 'white' signs. I had to deal with my own prejudice, which was really good for me. I ended up with very dear friends that were born and raised in Texas."
While in Dallas, Hofstedt started a program for wives of international students at SMU.
"These women would come from all over the world with their husbands and many of them didn't speak English and never got out. We met three times a week with women from all over the world, and once a month a group would present about their culture."
She particularly cherishes the memory of a baby shower for an Iraqi woman who, in Texas, had become best friends with an Iranian woman.
"Their countries were at war at the time," Hofstedt said. "That's when it really became clear to me how similar we all are, no matter where we're from. We all want our children to be healthy and educated. We all want to have friends and relationships."
Also in Texas, Sharon and Tom began hosting exchange students. Over the years they have had 35 different young people living under their roof.
"It started with students and then it became anybody in a life transition where we could make a difference," she said. "We've had several going through divorces or getting on their feet after drug or alcohol problems."
In many cases, the temporary residents have become like family to the Hofstedts.
Currently the couple lives in a multi-generational household in Menlo Park with their daughter and her 9-year-old son, an arrangement Hofstedt describes as "wonderful."
Hofstedt's 20-year career in nursing and nurse management spanned four states. One of her favorite projects was helping to start a psychosomatic unit for children and adolescents for which she was the first nurse manager and hired the staff.
Hofstedt said she likes to start things, a trait that goes back to her Minnesota youth where she was one of many leaders at her small high school.
"Our class had an amazing number of leaders who believed in caring about each other.
"Somebody would say, 'We're going to have a party at such-and-such house, and everybody's invited.' One girl was very poor; she lived in a house with dirt floors and she was what we'd call developmentally disabled. She said, 'Why don't we have everybody come to my house' and we said, 'OK, we're going.'
"Her dad had Kool-Aid out in the yard, and everybody went and had a great time. It was that kind of class.
"To me, that's what life is all about -- the relationships you make, whether it's within your family, your circle of friends or your community. That's the essence of life."
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