When one door closes….Making a difference in Bingen
After a long and satisfying career in management and hospitality, Sara Sanderson decided it was time to leave the wine industry, but not the Gorge. She loved making people feel welcome and creating memorable experiences for them, so she decided her second career would ideally take the best parts of hospitality and perhaps combine them with something she’d long dreamed of doing: social work.
Having once been pregnant and on her own at 18, Sara understands the challenges of connecting with the most basic of needs on a limited income: housing, healthcare, childcare, employment. She also knows the difference that one caring person can make.
“As a single teenage mom, I fell in love with my case manager, who made my life so much more manageable. She just had tons of empathy and real knack for making someone feel heard. I’ll never forget her. It’s stuck with me, and it planted a seed about maybe someday pursuing a career in social services. But then I rose to management in the wine industry and it was lucrative, I was young, and that dream took a backseat to everyday life, I guess,” Sara recalls.
When the Community Health Worker opportunity with Washington Gorge Action Programs (WAGAP) became available, Sara decided her mid-life career was calling her. Working with participants in Klickitat County, Sara now spends her days doing what her case manager did for her more nearly three decades ago: locating affordable housing and other services for a young new mother, as well as working with the elderly, and those struggling with addiction.
“This is the perfect transition out of hospitality, really, because I’m using those skills that help make people feel welcome, but I’m doing it on a level that for me is so meaningful, and so personal.”
The peer-to-peer support Sara provides is personal, and it includes meeting people where they are, whether that’s young and pregnant, depressed, smoking, addicted, in legal trouble, or simply in need of reducing food insecurity or receiving nutrition education. She spends her days connecting with her participants and partner organizations, hanging flyers in public places, letting the community know about WAGAP. She’s also working with the White Salmon School District, helping to coordinate social and health services for a number of families.
Having the flexibility and the time to work closely with participants distinguishes Community Health Workers like Sara from caseworkers who may have dozens of cases at once: the additional personal attention she’s able to give to those she encounters, addressing housing, legal issues, food insecurity, behavioral health needs, and more.
“I’ve lived in the Gorge for more than 12 years now, and I know the struggles people face here. There’s a great wealth disparity, for one thing, and that has so many rippling impacts. I’m eager to dive into the issues that affect this community, like addressing the wealth disparity and also helping prevent childhood trauma,” Sara says.
SWACH and WAGAP are thrilled to have Sara Sanderson representing their mission so well, and helping to make Klickitat County a thriving community where everyone belongs….one connection at a time.