Sarah Gochenaur packed courage and grace when she moved to Washington, D.C. from the West Coast. Armed with $200 and a suitcase, she arrived to the city as an AmeriCorps volunteer with almost nothing.
After a stint working with Capital Foodbank, Gochenaur assumed the role as director of development and communications for New Endeavors by Women (NEW), a DC-based nonprofit that provides housing and case management support to senior women experiencing homelessness.
The nonprofit opened its doors in 1988, its programs and services have helped 3,500 women and children take steps toward achieving greater self-sufficiency and independence.
“I was inspired by the mission and the way the staff goes above and beyond for the client. I’ve never seen an organization so passionate; I know kids from the youth enrichment program who are now in college and still connected with their case manager,” said Gochenaur. “There was one case where a case manager drove a client to NYC to be with their family after moving and they still keep up with this person.”
These lifelong relationships budded from the staff’s ability to listen, understand and connect. Gochenaur’s goal is simply to break down a barrier and stigma around homelessness. Her hope is to do this by opening the door for more honest conversations so people can find the empathy to relate.
“People like to brush homelessness under the rug or pretend like it’s not happening but people experiencing homelessness are our neighbors; you can’t always tell who is experiencing homelessness,” said Gochenaur.
Street Sense Media caught up with Gochenaur to ask about the work she’s done to combat housing disparities in the past and present in addition to her future aspirations.
What are some new developments that the NEW organization has been working on?
Thanks to our supporters and the efforts of the Capital Campaign – in particular, long-time donor Pastor Tom Knoll–we have been able to purchase what’s known as the “First Street” property. The property will be able to house the senior women in our New Journeys II program. New Journeys II is an open-ended permanent supportive housing program that offers structure and support in apartments for 15 women aged 55 and older, most of whom have a chronic illness and have been without stable housing for many years.
In purchasing the property, we are respecting Tom Knoll’s desire for the building to be a haven for people experiencing homelessness. By promoting the results of this campaign widely, NEW and our supporters hope to increase awareness about homelessness in Washington, D.C. This campaign has been a meaningful way to engage our community in the Washington, D.C. area and beyond.
Can you speak to your educational background and what you are studying? How will you use your degree to help further your service work?
Like many people, I wasn’t able to finish college on a “traditional” timeline for financial reasons. I started my nonprofit career as an Americorps volunteer and worked my way up from there. I experienced firsthand the way that not having a degree impacted my job opportunities and the way I was treated in the workplace. A few years ago, I decided to go back to college online for management studies. I’m currently enrolled at University of Maryland Global Campus where I’m on track to graduate next May.
The classes I’m taking are helping me be a better manager for my team at New Endeavors. I’ve learned so much about financial management, creating a healthy work environment, and innovating as a business. Our clients at NEW keep me focused on my goals. I know that I’m striving for a degree alongside many of our ladies- on our own timelines.
With so much uncertainty, what resources were helpful in getting you acclimated to the city?
I didn’t feel at home here until I started giving back to the D.C. community and understanding the city’s history. There are so many great, small organizations in the city that need volunteers and donors. Organizations like NEW taught me how to listen to my neighbors and advocate for them.
In what ways were you able to unite with the community when you started working in the non-profit sector?
As a nonprofit professional, I learned to separate “prescriptive services” and collaborative services. It’s easy for an outside person to come into a community and assume what that community needs. It’s much more impactful to work alongside the community to collaborate on solutions. It’s why I was drawn to New Endeavors. There is no “one size fits all” set of goals for our clients. Each woman sets her own goals with the help of her case manager. I aim to be the best co-conspirator I can be for our staff and clients.
What experiences have you had that help you understand the demographic you’re serving?
I grew up in a household where times were often lean. My mom worked two jobs, leaving for work before I woke up and coming home after I was asleep. Like many kids in D.C. today, I balanced taking care of my siblings, financial stress, and schoolwork. As an adult, I’ve felt the impact of classism and sexism on my career. I understand the frustration of seeing doors open for others that are locked for you.
Even then, I cannot fully understand the experiences of our clients. I’ve never been a woman of color and I’ve never been homeless. Each woman at NEW has a different story with different roadblocks. I’m honored that I get to hear their stories and use my skills to help them break down barriers.
What projects are you looking to venture into as the Director of Development and Communications?
I am so excited about the future of New Endeavors By Women. I’m looking forward to growing our community of individual donors. Our work relies on the generosity of people who want to make a difference. As a small organization, each dollar goes a long way to help us provide housing and supportive services.
We’re also stepping up our social media to share stories of our clients and staff. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We also post updates about our letter-writing volunteer program! We’re always looking for volunteers to write to our ladies, especially our senior women. It’s a great way to build connections during these chilly days indoors.
This headline has been updated to correct the name of the organization and to provide clarification on its mission.