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Activist helps with the smaller things

By Justin Boron

Amid the troubles of suburban destitution, Sharon Owens' reels of cassette tape are rescuing people in Clayton County.

Sharon Owens, a Riverdale community activist, said she has handed out at least 1,000 of her inspirational tapes to people in her 20 years of community service.

"If I am in a store and see someone arguing or someone on the side of the road crying, I just give them one of these tapes," she said. "(They) have saved lives."

Often, the tapes are just a starting point for the relationships that Owens builds with the county's indigent and underprivileged.

A supporter of the recently deceased homeless woman, Janice Cunningham, Owens uses her background in law and nursing to create a support net for dozens of needy people in the county.

She said she devotes herself to people's smaller needs that may be too specific for larger social service organizations to address.

Whether it is a cassette tape or picking up a prescription from the pharmacy for shut-ins, Owens said she wants to be there for those who can't help themselves.

Her experience with civil litigation developed a drive to help the community's disenfranchised.

"The little guy is always getting stepped on," she said.

Owens' offering to the often forgotten segment of society is Point of View, a community service organization originally started to help those who had contracted HIV but that eventually grew into a full-scale community service operation.

As its executive director, Owens is quick to remind that Point of View is largely a grass roots effort. She said she carries out dozens of tasks including assisting the infirm, the homeless, and the youth without any state or federal grants.

Her work with Cunningham, who the community rallied around after she was murdered, has propelled Owens and her volunteers into a county-wide spotlight.

Her phone call to the police was instrumental in the arrest of Henry Sheffield, who confessed to the woman's killing, said Riverdale Police Chief Thetus Knox at award ceremony earlier this week.

Sheriff Victor Hill also attended the ceremony to give his thanks to the activists.

But Owens deflects much of the attention, saying the honorary certificates and gratitude were not the reason she got into community service.

She asked that more credit be given to her co-worker Mytrice Shelton, one of people who spotted Sheffield at the memorial and a volunteer for Point of View.

Despite her resistance to the public spotlight, the tragic event has broadened her service.

With more people asking for help and more people willing to help since Cunningham's death, Owens said Point of View is moving into a larger office on Springdale Road and will likely have to abandon its grass roots nature soon.

"At the rate I'm going I'm going to need a grant," she said.