Counselor’s death leaves a void in students and co-workers’ lives
By the age of 36, Danielle Shareef had led, by most accounts, a full life.
She had played college basketball at Big Eight powerhouse Kansas University and professionally in the United States and overseas in Israel.
Once her athletic career was over, Shareef moved on to better her mind, obtaining a master’s degree from the University of New Orleans, was working on her PhD and had a job she loved as a counselor for troubled teens at Hahnville High School.
Those that knew her said Danielle had so much more to give the world, describing her as a woman that strove to help others.
She was never satisfied, working in Alternative Programs, which deals with and assists at-risk children.
“She worked with students that had a hard time fitting into a traditional classroom, but not only behavioral problems. One child was terminally ill, another who had had a child and another who had had anger issues,” Denyse Keller a fellow colleague and friend at Hahnville. “For whatever reason, these kids didn’t quite fit in the classroom.”
Nonetheless, Keller and another fellow co-worker Rica Souillier said Shareef was always there for the children, giving them advice or choices to better themselves.
Yet all of those achievements were swept away in the blink of an eye, as Shareef was tragically killed in an automobile accident in Tampa on May 26.
“She often spoke of her beliefs that if you cultivate today’s youth with strong values and positive relationships you can inspire them to attain a healthy lifestyle, become their own role model and make wise choices. She often shared her ideas and philosophy with others through collaboration, presenting at conferences and working at summer youth camps,” recalled Keller.
Not satisfied with only helping children in St. Charles Parish, Shareef spent her summers helping one of America’s most troubled youths: Native American children. The program called Native Vision fosters school completion, self-esteem, cultural attachment and healthy lifestyles.
Shareef traveled to the American Southwest donating her time to help the indigenous population that is plagued with teen pregnancy, alcoholism and drug addiction. In one summer, Shareef showed more altruism than most can display in a lifetime.
Working with troubled teens, is, by most accounts, a stressful job that offers little compensation, but that never slowed Shareef down or diminished her zeal to bring the best for her children.
As to what drove her to help those at risk, Keller thought Shareef’s upbringing had a great deal to do with it. “She came from a very difficult background, and she was one who believed education could get you over every hurdle,” said Keller. “I believe the she really thought she could make a difference everyday when she got up in the morning.”
While Shareef is described as opening her heart and ears to anyone in need, she did exercise a modicum of tough love with her students. “She made her children except responsibility for their decisions, growing and learning from them and making changes,” said Keller. “She didn’t beat around the bush; she hit things straight on with them.”
Both Keller and Souillier think that Shareef’s athletic background had a great deal to with how she treated the children, who, according to both, miss and ask about Shareef regularly.
Shareef’s friends on the basketball court described her in the same motivated and determined manner. This competitive fire drove her to be the best and never give up, and Shareef was determined to instill that in her students.
Danielle had been forced by Hurricane Katrina to continue her doctorate at Georgia State University in Atlanta, since UNO was temporarily shut down. But even that did not stop her from coming to graduation this year at Hahnville. She was, first and foremost, dedicated to her kids.
Her former coach at Kansas, Marian Washington, called her death a “tragedy,” and said the world will sorely miss her.
“We miss her in the office,” said Keller, saying that working with her was true joy
Shareef’s family said that a fund has been established in Danielle’s memory. Those wanting to donate can send funds to Johns Hopkins University. Mail the check to Native Vision National Office, 621 N Washington St., Baltimore M.D. 21205, Attn: Marlena Hammen.