People of Etowah – Suzanne Scharfenberg


Name: Suzanne McNair Scharfenberg

Where were you born and raised?

“I was born in Jacksonville, Fla., and raised all over the Southeast: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. My father worked for Coca-Cola in Atlanta and each promotion meant a transfer. So, we moved a lot! But with four siblings it was always fun. My parents always made it an adventure. My husband Steve and I have lived in Alabama 38 years now – 15 in Troy and 23 in Rainbow City. So, Alabama is definitely ‘home’ to us.”

What is your occupation?

“I am the volunteer Executive Director for Gadsden-Etowah Habitat for Humanity.”

What made you decide to work in your field?

“I have always had a heart for service and enjoyed helping others. The opportunity to serve in the ministry of Habitat for Humanity arose through our participation in Renew, a small group program at our church in Troy in 1993. The goal of our Renew group at St. Martin Catholic Church was to find a way to put our faith into action. My husband Steve suggested we explore the Christian ministry Ha-bitat for Humanity. And so we did. After prayer, research and the support of many, we started the Troy-Pike Habitat for Humanity affiliate in 1994. But, in 1995, Steve took a new job in Gadsden. After meeting some wonderful new friends at the Greater Gadsden Greeters who asked me what I did, I knew God’s call had come again. With the help of new friends from different religions in the community, we formed a steering committee, started raising funds, and the rest is history. We are celebrating 22 years of service in Etowah County and have built 51 houses for those in need of simple, decent and affordable hou-sing.”

Tell us about your family and pets.

“We have two wonderful adult children and four precious grandchildren. Our daughter Julie is an attorney with the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Her husband Charlie is an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Virginia. Their twins, Charles and Grace, are 19 year old. Charles is a freshman at Virginia Tech studying engineering. Grace is a classical guitarist studying music at Jacob’s School of Music at Indiana University on a six year scho-larship. Our son, Andrew, is a senior attorney with Hunt Refining Company in Tuscaloosa. He and his wife Heather have two sons. Drew is 17 years old and a junior at Tuscaloosa Academy. He plays soccer and is the kicker for the football team, the Knights. He loves soccer and has received numerous awards in German language competitions. Sam is 14 years old and an 8th grader at Rock Quarry Middle School, where he plays basketball, football and baseball for his school’s team, the Jaguars, plus he plays on a travel baseball team.”

Describe an average day in your life.

“We are blessed with a wonderful view of the river, so each morning is always a blessing to spend some time taking in God’s gift of a brand new day. I enjoy coffee, prayer time and solving a puzzle in the newspaper. I typically spend 6-7 hours a day at the Habitat office. The job certainly offers lots of variety that keeps the day interesting. Sometimes it’s phone calls from families who want to apply for housing or perhaps emails to volunteers seeking their help on a building project. With the 7th Annual Habitat Dragon Boat Festival plans underway for Aug. 18, 2018, we are busy seeking sponsors and teams to support the event. My day is filled with public relations, website or Facebook postings, soliciting volun-teers and churches to lend a hand. I work with the Family Selection and Family Support Committees who meet throughout the year to select families and provide homebuyer classes and budget counseling. I write grants, publish a bi-annual newsletter, The Blueprint, and plan groundbreakings and dedications. There are letters to write and donors to thank. I love what I do and I’m grateful to all those who volunteer. It is their hands and hearts that truly give life to the mission and ministry of Habitat for Humanity in Etowah County. Volunteers make it a joy!”

What school or schools have you attended?

“I graduated from Sandy Springs High School in Atlanta and attended Shorter College in Rome, Ga.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“I always love being with our grandchildren and celebrating ‘family time.’ I also enjoy time with friends, reading, games, puzzles and bridge or just relaxing and enjoying the view from our back deck.”

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

“My great accomplishment is our children. Julie and Andrew have always been the loves of my life. It has been my honor to share my faith with them and to know they have a firm foundation. It is my joy now to see accomplished adults who worked hard in school to achieve their dreams and to know they are now successful, happy adults with children of their own. I am blessed!”

Name the one person that has been the most influential in your life. Why?

“It’s hard to name just one person, because certainly my parents had a great influence on my life. They taught me about respect, hard work and living up to my potential. They helped cement my faith in God and His love for me. They inspired me through their generosity and work with the poor in their community in Roswell, Ga. They truly made a difference in the lives of many families through the North Fulton Child Development Center they helped found so many years ago. But I must say that for the last 50 years, there is one very special person who has influenced my life, my faith and my happiness beyond words and that is my precious husband, Steve. He is truly the kindest, most thoughtful, generous man of faith I have ever known. I am so blessed to be his wife and partner for life. He has encouraged me, taught me, uplifted me and been my rock. He has always believed in me, steadied my ship and helped me become, I hope, a better person. He is my life and my joy!”

To what do you credit your success?

“God’s blessings and hard work. Steve and I felt God’s call to the mission of Habitat for Humanity many years ago. I believe it is through God’s help that, together, we are led to help make the dream of homeownership come true for so many families in our community. Habitat for Humanity offers families a hand-up, and it has always been my belief that hard work and determination will pay off someday. Never give up! Never stop dreaming!”

What is your favorite thing about this community?

“The Coosa River and the wonderful people who make this a great place to live and work.”

What would you like to see change in the community?

“We are so fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth with mountains and the Coosa River. I hope our leaders will continue to seek the best options for growth and development along the river. I would also like to see a sign ordinance and more underground utilities.”

What are three words that describe you?

“Loyal, determined and faithful.”

What is something surprising that many do not know about you?

“I was the winner of the Kroger-Westinghouse Junior Cook of the Year for the Southeast when I was 14 years old. I prepared a bacon-wrapped enchilada dish. And with that win, my mother and I flew to Cincinnati for the national cook-off. And, I was “Miss Salute to America” in the July 4, 1967 parade in Atlanta.”

What is your favorite quote?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

What is on your bucket list?

“An Alaskan cruise!”

What is your hidden talent?

“It may not be a talent, but I do love to sing.”

What advice would you give yourself as a child?

“Read more and never ride a bicycle through Home Economics class again!”

If you would like to nominate someone for the People of Etowah column, email or call 256-547-1049.

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