Changing and Evolving

Sara gardens

Executive Director Sara Kobylenski oversaw tremendous growth

Sara Kobylenski, the Haven’s first Executive Director, led the organization from 2009 to 2018—and a lot happened in those nine years. For starters, the staff expanded from nine to 48 and the budget grew from $865,000 to $2.3 million. Those two data points encapsulate an exponential growth in services, including the opening of Hixon House to provide temporary housing for 20 homeless adults, and development of a year-round Children’s Services Program, offering opportunities to dozens of children affected by the trauma of homelessness.

Under Sara’s tutelage, the Haven’s food programs expanded from 400 households/month to more than 1400 households/month, in response to the tremendous growth in hunger and need for food. In addition an emergency seasonal shelter was established, and Volunteer Services grew to engage 450 Upper Valley community members plus hundreds more who volunteer through their companies. Most notably, a clinical social service staff was added to provide Service Coordination.

“Service Coordination, or problem solving, creates a way for those who are most vulnerable to have hope and possibility for something different,” Sara explains. “It helps guests and visitors navigate the increasingly complex challenges of poverty. It remains one of the best ways to support people in changing their lives for the better.”

Sara undoubtedly changed the Haven for the better. Renee Weeks, Director of Shelter and Clinical Services, calls Sara “an inspirational leader. She was always so focused and on top of everything,” Renee says. “She loved to be involved in all aspects of the organization and even maintained her own small case load of clients. Sara loved direct service as much as she loved macro-level work.  Sara always knew how to find answers to problems. Her door was always open. She cared deeply about the clients and the staff of the Haven.”

According to former Board Chair Merritt Patridge, “Working closely with Sara was one of the great privileges of my professional life,” says Merritt. Over Sara’s tenure, “the Haven became much more of a thought leader on poverty in Vermont. Sara believed that organizations and people needed to evolve. She used to say that if we’re not changing and evolving, we’re not doing the work.”

As a Haven publication celebrating her retirement observed: “Sara Kobylenski was a transformative leader for the Haven, a tireless advocate for the poor in the Upper Valley, and an inspiration to all who have had the good fortune to know and work with her.”


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