Bill Sharp first became involved with United Friends School in 2017 when his daughter Hina enrolled in 2nd grade. The journey to the United Friends School started almost 7,000 miles away in Seoul, South Korea, where he met his wife. During an admissions visit to the school in 2016, Bill recalls looking at his wife Jinouk, “we didn’t say anything and we were thinking the same thing, this woman looks really nice — should we just tell her right now we are sold? We didn’t even get up to the 2nd floor, we realized this is the school we had been looking for. It was an easy decision. — This is our place.” Bill supports our Annual Fund and has helped co-chair the annual Spring Benefit along with Sarah Petryk. We recently sat down with Bill to discuss what philanthropy means to him and how he makes giving back to United Friends School a priority.
Tell us about the experience that brought you and your family to United Friends School?
Sharp: Our family had been living in Seoul, South Korea, where my wife is from and we moved down south to an island about sixty miles off the south coast where our daughter Hina would start school. She started first grade at a school that was the local public school’s version of an alternative school, it was supposed to be a lot of project-based learning, a lot of field trips, something in-line with what we wanted for her education.
So one day, the school has this parent day, where all the parents show up, we get in the back of the classroom and this teacher is doing this demonstration lesson, and she is standing up in front of the classroom talking for forty-five minutes, and I am watching these kids, squirming and being tortured by this, and I thought my god is this on purpose? What is a six-year-old worst in the world at? — sitting still for 45 minutes quietly right. I was thinking, could this be deliberate? Are they trying to test these kids and see which one of them they can break? Sure enough, a couple of kids just can’t take it anymore, and they’re wiggling and goofing around. As I watched Hina, I saw her already developing these mechanisms to keep her mind alive and she’s doodling, these little games on her papers. I saw her struggling to just get through forty-five minutes of this teacher talking and Jinouk and I just looked at each other, I never even said anything, we kind of just looked at each other and the decision was made silently, we knew, we just needed to find a new school.
We didn’t find anything in South Korea that was going to fit what we were looking for in Hina’s education. We planned to return to the states at some point, just for the sake of Hina’s English but had been thinking much later, maybe by the time she was to go to the fifth grade. I knew Quaker Education was a thing, so I thought, let’s look into this. I got a list of schools off Wikipedia — all 660 schools. I sat down at the computer and was like ok, I’m going to get through at least twenty-five a day.
I think the admissions director was on vacation that week and Natalie Marasco had been helping out [on the day we visited]. She was so welcoming and really nice. We started talking in Natalie’s office and learning more about the school and we got out in the hallway and again Jinouk and I just looked at each other, we didn’t say anything and we were thinking the same thing, this woman looks really nice — should we just tell her right now we are sold? We don’t even need to see the rest of the school. We didn’t even get up to the 2nd floor, we realized this is the school we had been looking for. It was an easy decision. — This is our place.
What do you value most about UFS?
Sharp: I would say the thing that I value the most is that I trust it, because everything else goes from there. I trust this place, I have faith in this place. When this pandemic strikes the world, Im ok because I know the school is going to have the best interest of the students, the community, the parents, they’re going to take that to heart, and make a good decision so I never needed to worry about the school, and I know it may not always be the best solution for me, but it’s going to be the best solution for the school and as a community — I’m going to benefit from that too. That level of trust gives me peace. The freedom to worry about other things. Everything kind of leads from there — leads from that trust.
Why is giving to the United Friends School annual fund so important for the school and our community?
Sharp: That’s democracy! And how we achieve diversity! I believe in both of those values and I believe in doing what it takes to keep them alive and well and growing in the future. I like the model where a million people give five bucks, not when one person gives five million. I like being accountable to a million donors, not one. I like a million people having a say in something, not just one, to me that’s when democracy is working and being healthy. For diversity — I was initially hesitant to send my daughter to a private school. Is she going to be surrounded by kids with affluenza? I wanted my daughter in a school that looks and feels like America that she is going to meet a full range of people. So the flexible tuition program to me is essential to making sure that the school has the full spectrum of people that make up our country and our future. She’s meeting that wide variety of people at UFS and getting those insights into the diversity around her and so keeping that flexible tuition program strong and growing is very important to me as a person and as a parent.
You have donated to the school, both financially and with your time with the Spring Benefit, What inspired you to give back to United Friends School?
Sharp: I believe in Philanthropy as a value, as a practice, as a way to make the world a better place. It makes me happy to share some of my good fortune. I wish I had billions of dollars to hand out –but I don’t, but that’s fine I give what I can. I make Philanthropy a serious part of our family’s annual budget. I love it, it’s one of my favorite chores of the year to sit down and write those checks, to groups and organizations that I believe in and will take that money and amplify it a thousand times over and do some really cool stuff. It feels good to give and it makes me happy and makes me proud to be able to do it.
In terms of giving my time, the world is incredibly complicated and it’s so hard to make decisions, you think your actions are going to have this one effect, I try to simplify it. What if everyone on earth was doing what I do? What do I want everyone else to be doing? I’ll just go do it and hope everyone else does it too. I’m trying to live my life in the best way that I think would be good for everybody, donating my time is an important part of that. The benefits that I receive in return are so much greater than the investments. I’ve been working online since 2012, so just getting out and meeting people, getting involved, making friends and connections is precious to me. This Spring Benefit is a fantastic opportunity, enriching my life and learning new things.
For some of our new families who may not be familiar with the Spring Benefit, what is this annual event?
Sharp: Under normal circumstances, it’s a fun in-person event, where we gather and it’s a party, where we can mingle and let our hair down and have a gathering and enjoy ourselves. At the event, we hold an auction for items that have been donated, both by outside donors, by our families, grandparents — and anybody that wants to donate. About two years ago we moved the auction online and had both in-person and online simultaneously, whichever you were more comfortable with, but as it turns out, that was a pretty good idea, because this year, the event is going to be totally online and we are just doing the auction. This is a critical fundraising event for our school. It is essential, I don’t know if you call it the backbone, but it is a major component of our school’s flexible tuition program. It also provides one-off funding for STEM programs, professional development for our teachers and equipment for the classroom. It’s essential for our kids and our school.
How can we get involved in the Spring Benefit? Who should we contact if we have questions?
Sharp: Definitely donate to the spring benefit if you can, we will be calling for donations and items. The best thing is something you can get free, something from work, employee benefits, something that costs you nothing or very little to maximize your donation. The spring benefit can also be an opportunity to volunteer, we have something for everyone. We need parent volunteers to make calls. We’ve got data-entry – you can sit alone at a computer and type forms in and a whole range of stuff you can help out with.
Why is giving back to UFS important for our community, what advice would you offer to someone to get more involved?
I would say definitely customize giving to your own situation and your own needs, make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with, you don’t have to overreach, and you don’t need to feel guilty especially if you have some pretty serious limits right now, so make sure it’s right for you. You want to create a positive feedback loop, you want it to feel good and you want to come back to it next year. The annual fund is a fantastic way to give.
I recently sat down with my daughter, Hina, who received a stimulus check and I sat down with her and said what do you want to do with your money? It was a great way to get her involved in our family’s philanthropy. Hina is really compassionate towards animals, so she wanted to give some to the Bucks County SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and made sure she understood that we were going to give some to our school as well and what our donation would go to with the flexible tuition program, infrastructure and the support of our teachers. I would say if you can, get your kids involved, get them started early on that tradition and understand the value and accelerate the process of improvement in the world.