December 4, 2013

RSVP – Lead With Experience

By Bill Sedlacek
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

Sharon DeFrieze:
A Life Devoted to Fairness and Literacy

Considering her life accomplishments, it’s hard to believe that, as a child, Sharon DeFrieze had difficulty reading.  Sharon says she overcame this difficulty with the help of her father and church youth groups. Perhaps there really is a reason for every happening, as she credits this early childhood struggle with helping her develop an inner strength and assertiveness that has served her well in her life work and volunteer activities.

This childhood experience of hers is part of the reason she feels such passion for the work of the Bi-State Literacy Council. One of the original board members, she is currently the treasurer, and she has been involved in other Council leadership positions for the 25 years it has been in existence. One of her favorite moments with the Council was the visit of former First Lady Barbara Bush to the local Sears Manufacturing Plant. Mrs. Bush presented GED diplomas to some of the plant’s workers who were given training through a Bi-State Literacy and Quad City Labor-Management Council workplace grant.

The council itself is a much larger operation than I realized. It is not limited to the immediate Quad-Cities area, but serves six counties: Scott, Clinton and Muscatine in Iowa and Rock Island, Henry and Mercer in Illinois. It serves all age groups in its quest to improve reading skills. Its RSVP volunteers and other members of the community provide services to Project Now for three-to-six-year-old children in their HeadStart program, give assistance to families with limited English skills and help adults develop better reading skills while preparing for GED testing. Although reading proficiency is essential to success in life, the council realizes that other things are also important, so it has branched out to other areas such as: Social Smarts, a program to teach manners and social skills to school age children. The Council funds its activities with corporate and individual donations, grants, fundraising events such as trivia nights and Birdies for Charity. It provides services through schools and church groups and other community organizations.

Sharon’s contribution to the greater good of our community is not limited to her involvement in the Literacy Council. In the dark days of the 1980s when unemployment here was over 20 percent, she began working in Project Assist, helping displaced workers develop better skills and find employment. John Buller of the former US Representative Lane Evans office recognized her work and knew that she had developed contacts with local management officials as well as labor leaders and asked her to develop a labor/management partnership organization. This was the beginning of Quad City Area Labor Management (QCALM). Sharon prefers to drop the Q and pronounce it “Calm,” partly to counter what she and I believe were unfair accusations that the area had a militant workforce which was primarily to blame for the 1980s job losses. QCALM, with 12 members (six from management and six from labor), has a mission to support and strengthen labor management relations to enhance our economic well-being. They work with business, labor, schools, our court systems and social agencies to provide training to current and future workers. This work seemed a “Family Fit” for her, as her late husband Louis was a vice president of the International United Food and Commercial Workers.

As you may have guessed, she has received many awards and much recognition. Among these are Woman of the Workplace Award, The Rotary District Literacy Award and the Bi-State Literacy Council’s Sister Camille Clarke Award.

Those of us who labor to provide goods contribute value to an end product by work in the design, production, assembly, or delivery of that product.  Sharon’s remarkable contribution has been on the human side, enhancing the value of individuals by improving their ability to succeed in life and consequently enhancing their value to our society. She continues to contribute by her work with Christian Care, the Rock Island Arsenal Welcome Club, the Moline Rotary, and the New Life Outpatient Center as well as QCALM and Bi-State Literacy. I’m sure she will continue to contribute and earn even more recognition.

For more information on volunteer opportunities with Bi-State Literacy Council and other programs supporting literacy for all ages, contact RSVP at (309) 793-4425 or email:

Filed Under: Community

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