Distinguished service: Sarah White sees those served as brothers, sisters

January 2019 Posted in Community, People

Sarah White, Executive Director & Case Manager, Silverton Sheltering Services.
Brenna Wiegand

By Brenna Wiegand

Though greatly honored, Sarah White is a little embarrassed at receiving Silverton’s Distinguished Service award for 2018.

“I’m really grateful; I feel it is a collective work and a collective award and I just happen to be the person whose name is on it,” White said.

White was part of a core group that formed Silverton Sheltering Services last April. The nonprofit collaborates with other agencies in a concerted effort to address Silverton’s growing homeless issue.

“We’re trying to meet people’s basic physical needs first,” White said. “Once they’ve been able to get food and coffee and a place to sit where they don’t feel like people are watching them or that someone’s going to come and ask them to move along, we find out their goals and help them make a plan.

“We have limited services; we’re really just resource navigators for folks and we have phones and computers and access to a really supportive community,” she said.

Facebook has proven very effective in connecting need with people’s goodwill.

“We throw out a need and it is met within 24 hours almost every time,” White said. “The other day a gal needed interview clothes to follow up on a job she’d applied for. I went on my personal Facebook account and the next morning when I came into the office we had gathered a big bag of clothes, new make-up and hair products and she was all ready to go meet with the person and now has an interview.”

A grant provided funds for a warming shelter at Oak Street Church that is open every night from Thanksgiving through February. Over the past year and a half they’ve hosted 55 local people at the shelter and connected 20 people to safe and stable housing.

“Sarah is tireless in her effort to help families and individuals find shelter, food, showers, laundry service, child care…” one nominator said. “She provides case management so people get what they need most. In August alone she found housing for 10 people.”

Another nominator says she is better for having known White.

“I am awed by her selfless willingness to give her time, her treasure, her love and heart to anyone who needs it.”

White gets a lot of well-meaning advice and pressure from folks to maintain clear boundaries in her work but she sees things differently.

“My approach to doing all of this work is that these are neighbors and brothers and sisters and I don’t focus on having those clear boundaries,” White said. “I don’t see any difference between the people we’re helping and the people doing the work. I think it is really important in everything you do to carry with you the awareness that we all have our challenges and our heartbreaks and traumas and barriers to living a happy life. Then there’s a lot more equity in your work; it’s not something you’re doing for people; it’s something you’re doing with and alongside them.”

White said her husband Dmitry, a software engineer, covers for her all the time. He helps people with taxes and applications, maintains the website and helps process data.

Joseph Schmaus takes the night watch at the warming shelter and works closely with White.

“Sarah has a really big heart and keeps a calm presence that speaks volumes to people in high-stress situations,” he said.

“She is an incredible motivator and knows how the system works so she’s able to be an effective case manager.”

“I struggle to think of anyone who has contributed so much to the community and to a population that is so vulnerable,” said a nominator. “She is a Silverton treasure.”

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