Living the Golden Life: Sheandolen Dunn
By Donna Kelly
Sheandolen Dunn could have taken the easy way.
At 24, she was a pregnant college dropout. Another young woman taking the path Dunn chose might have been derailed along the way and lost her purpose or given up on dreams. But Dunn opted to sharpen her purpose with experience and make her dreams a reality. Today the 45-year-old Winter Haven resident is basking in gratitude for her blessings – the joy of seeing her baby boy grow up to become a dedicated police officer, the satisfaction of not only earning that bachelors degree, but a graduate degree as well, and the excitement of starting a new, challenging job. Today she shares the lessons learned along the way with young people struggling to find their place in the world.
A Change of Peace
In July, she traded the hustle and bustle of Winter Haven City Hall for the slower pace of the Polk City administration building. After serving in a number of administrative assistant positions in several departments, including deputy city clerk in Polk County’s second largest city, Dunn became the assistant to the city manager and assistant to the city clerk in its smallest municipality.
She loves it.
“It is actually a welcome change. Coming from a big city and walking into a smaller environment is a good thing for me,” says Dunn. “I get up in peace. I’m not stressed. I come to work and I have a good time.”
Many of her duties are similar to those she performed in Winter Haven and this made the transition easy. Polk City’s City Manager Pat Jackson says Dunn’s experience is one of many qualities that make her a great fit for the job.
“Sheandolen is outgoing, straight forward, and has zero tolerance for foolishness,” says Jackson. “She brings her knowledge and skills from a larger city and easily implements that into the day-to-day operations in Polk City.”
For Dunn, the slower pace enables her to do what she loves most – work with people.
“I’ve brought a lot of what I learned at Winter Haven to Polk City. The work is the same – it’s just on a smaller scale. It allows me to be a lot more personable,” she says. “People have gotten away from being personable and that’s a shame.”
Polk City’s new assistant to the city manager discovered this affinity for working with people at age 19 when she was a desk clerk at a motel in Tallahassee. “I learned your attitude can take you nowhere fast – or everywhere quickly,” she says. “I also learned to be careful when you open your mouth. I learned how much of a people person I am.”
Dunn makes no bones about it – her youthful choices were her own. Flunking out of college and having a baby so young weren’t part of her plans while growing up in Lakeland.
The daughter of Annette and Lennon Dunn, a United Way staffer and a middle school teacher, respectively, she was taught the value of hard work, taking responsibility for your own actions, and regularly attending church.
“I thought my parents were strict,” she says. “They said what they meant, and meant what they said.”
Proper behavior was expected in the Dunn family. “My daddy would always say, ‘If you go to jail, don’t call me,’” she says.
She credits her parents and her grandmother, the late Sallie Horne, for instilling in her the values necessary to raise her son as a single mother – determination, self reliance, and self respect. Quitting and accepting handouts were not options.
Sheandolen Dunn and nearly life-long friend Valerie Niblack co-direct the young people’s church at Greater St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland. Niblack isn’t surprised to see Dunn reaching her goals.
Niblack describes Dunn as upbeat, direct, and organized. “You never have to wonder where you stand with her,” she says.
Dunn’s life experiences and enthusiasm make her an effective role model for young people, Niblack says.
“She was a single mom. She could have taken the easy route – it’s hard to make the choices she did. But Sheandolen worked and she pushed herself to finish her master’s degree,” Niblack says.
Young people listen because they know she’s been there and has experienced similar hardships.
“Sheandolen always encourages them and tells them that it’s going to be hard but you can do this,” Niblack says. “She encourages you with words but with actions as well.”
Nobody knows this better than Dunn’s 23-year-old son, LaDarius Cooper, a police officer with the Winter Haven Police Department who remembers his mother pushing him as a child to strive for excellence in all he did. She taught him to be proud of his background and to carry himself well, to make a good first impression and to treat all people with respect.
“It’s helped in my career. You represent the department, your family values and you don’t want that impression to be negative. That might be the only chance to meet that person,” Cooper says. “I can talk to the chiefs’ wife or the homeless in street. No matter how people treat you, you respect them.”
His mother fostered in him the ability to make decisions with confidence and to not allow other people to determine his capabilities. “She taught me there’s no such thing as excuses,” he says.
She also taught him about the power of prayer.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my faith and her,” Cooper says. “She always told me, ‘Don’t try to hide it. It is part of who you are. It made you.’”
A golden life
“My parents raised me to treat people the way you want to be treated. If there’s something you can do to help somebody, you do it.”
Already known in her community for her mentoring of youth, Dunn dreams of opening a temporary employment agency designed to give teens and young adults the skills they need to land and keep a job, including how to dress professionally, prepare for an interview, complete an application, and register for classes.
“In the black community, I see so many young people who just don’t have the guidance and they need it. If I can get them to me, they would be changed,” Dunn says.
She also believes in providing a dose of reality. “Nobody is going to give you anything. You have to go out there and earn it. There’s no excuse for anybody – I’m 25 years late, but I did it!
Having raised her son, completed her master’s degree at Warner University, and found a niche in Polk City, Dunn fills her spare time puttering in her yard, honing her discount shopping skills, and mentoring youth. Someday, she says, she will open her temp agency and help even more people.
“I’m living my life like it’s golden,” she says and hums a few bars of music. “You know, like the Jill Scott song.”