People of Etowah – Valerie Shannon


Name: Valerie Shannon

Where were you born and raised?

“I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My parents, my brother and I lived in the valley right under Rock City in a town called Flintstone, Georgia. My parents moved to Centre, Alabama, when I was four years old when my father purchased a saw mill in Ellisville. I lived in Centre until I left home for college.”

What is your occupation?

“I am the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sister of Northeast Alabama, a youth mentoring organization that serves children ages 6-18 in one-to-one professionally supported relationships in schools and in community based programs.”

What made you decide to work in your field?

“I chose the social work field because I wanted to help people find solutions to better their lives and improve their circumstances. During my career I have worked with people who struggle with mental illness, emotional hurts and hang-ups, drug and alcohol addictions, as well as the physically fit through group fitness classes. I have worked with people in various stages of life from seniors, adults, teens and youth. Currently my focus is to enrich the lives of children through mentoring.    

Tell us about your family and pets.

“I was blessed with twin daughters, Heather Hope and Rachel Faith. Heather sadly passed away as an infant with a rare genetic disorder. I am comforted that she is with the Lord and I will see her again. My daughter Rachel was a healthy child and has been my pride and joy. She recently graduated college from Faulkner University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business. She also just married her high school sweetheart, Jordan Riggan, who serves as a Rainbow City police officer. I love them both dearly. As for my pets, I have two female black cats that let me live with them.”

Describe an average day in your life.

“I am an early riser so most mornings I walk or do some type of exercise to get my day started. My work is either in the Gadsden or the Anniston office. We serve five counties, which involves travel for outreach, development and recruitment in rural areas and in our local municipalities. When I am at my desk, I’m usually writing a grant, working on fundraising or program management.”

What school or schools have you attended?

“I attended Cherokee County High School, then started my basic college courses at Gadsden State Community College and finished my Bachelor of Science degree from Jacksonville State University.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“I love spending time with my family and friends. I enjoy cooking, working in my yard, and I love to decorate my home for all the different holidays. I also enjoy music, concerts, spending leisure time on the river and watching or attending Alabama football games. Roll Tide!”

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment? 

“Personally, I would say managing life as a single parent. It was challenging at times but God is good and has carried me through the trials and tribulations of life. Professionally in my tenure as CEO at Big Brothers Big Sisters, I would say achieving our Standards for Excellence Accreditation for the agency in 2013. Also, I have had success in grant writing and our programs have steadily increased, serving more children each year. Most importantly, I have had seen firsthand some life-changing match relationships that have totally changed the future of the children involved.”

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

“I would say that person would me my mother, Jane Varnell. My father passed away of a massive heart attack at the young age of 42.  Mother was left a widow to raise my brother, age 12 and myself, age 9. She did a phenomenal job. She received her degree from the University of Alabama, gra-duating magna cum laude. She was involved with numerous service clubs, sang in the church choir and helped start a local theater group. She was also the Director of CED Mental Health Center in Centre. She never let me get away with anything, taught me to take on challenges, and to be strong. My mother loved all people, never gossiped about anyone and was a wonderful role model.”       

To what do you credit your success? 

“Any success that I have achieved is through God’s grace. Some personality traits that have helped me along the way would be that I have a tenacious spirit and I am optimistic.”

Are you involved in any service organizations?

“I have been a member of the Anniston Kiwanis Club for 11 years, and have served on the board of directors from 2013-2015 and 2015-2017. I served as President of the State Association of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alabama from 2015-2017. I am a graduate of Leadership Etowah County, Class of 2007, and Leadership Calhoun County, Class of 2015.  I have maintained my certification through the American Council of Exercise from 1984 – 2017, as well as a certification from Body Recall Inc. I have taught a variety of group fitness classes over 30 years. Also, I am a member of Southside Baptist Church, where I have taught Sunday school to youth and adults.” 

What is your favorite thing about this community?

“Etowah County is beautiful with its natural scenery of the falls, river and mountains. It is centrally located to airports and major surrounding cities. I am excited by the new developments that are popping up all over the county that will prosper our community. Lastly, I am proud to live in a benevolent community that is always willing to lend a helping hand to people in need.”

What would you like to see change in the community?

“I think there should be more fun and educational activities to engage teenagers with our community, which are free of cost and do not require a uniform.”

What are three words that describe you?

“I am honest, dependable and loyal.”

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

“My mother told me that if I planned to attend college I was going to have to help find a way to pay for it. She encouraged me to enter local and state scholarship pageants, so I competed and won. I was crowned Miss Cherokee County and Miss Maid of Cotton consecutively. This secured two years of my college tuition at Jacksonville State. During my senior year at JSU I was chosen Head Ballerina which also provided a scholarship for my tuition.” 

What is your favorite quote?

“What you do makes a difference, you just need to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall.

What is on your bucket list?

“Some top things on my bucket list is to learn another language, be a master gardener, and I hope to travel more.  I would like to go to Alaska, see all 50 states, and one day visit and join my cousin and her family in Italy to pick olives from their grove.”

What is your hidden talent?

“My hidden talent is that I have a green thumb.”

If a movie were made about your life, who would you want to play you?

“My daughter chose Sandra Bullock to play me in a movie; however, people have always told me I favor Jamie Lee Curtis.”

What advice would you give yourself as a child? 

“Read your Bible every day and love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength!”

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

Latest News

Blind Glencoe grad receives Lighthouse Guild scholarship
RaceTrac near I-59 in Gadsden installing four EV chargers
ADRS breaks ground on new location in Gadsden
Community mourns death of beloved Harry ‘Shug’ Butler
Southside bridge replacement project underway

Latest Sports News

Southside’s Thompson highlights All-Gadsden Metro boys soccer team
Westbrook's Machen, Southside's Jackson lead off All-Gadsden Metro girls soccer 
Gaston's Bogle, Southside's Webb highlight All-Messenger track and field teams
Power trio highlights All-Messenger softball
Robby Davis has clear vision for Gadsden City baseball program