Meet Our New Board Chair – Shaunda Patterson Strachan
by Jenny Archer
This past July, Shaunda Patterson-Strachan became the Chair of Sasha Bruce Youthwork’s Board of Directors. She takes the reins from John Crain who served in this position for five years. Professionally, Shaunda is an attorney with nearly 25 years of experience, and is currently a partner at the law firm, Faegre Drinker.
Shaunda considers serving as Sasha Bruce’s Board Chair as the natural next step in her involvement with the organization and is thrilled to be working with her colleagues on the Board to serve and support Sasha Bruce’s clients and staff. This month, we interviewed Shaunda about her history with and commitment to the organization and what she hopes to accomplish during her time as Chair.
When did you become involved with SBY and who introduced the organization to you?
I first heard the words “Sasha Bruce Youthwork” in the late 1990’s, from my best friend, who was interning with Sasha Bruce’s court appointed alternative programs. In terms of my direct involvement, however, it’s now been over ten years! I still have the June 2011 email from then-Development Director, Jim Beck, informing me that the Board had voted unanimously in favor of my joining them. I was thrilled.
My first introduction to the organization came ahead of joining the Board. As I shared at a recent Community Impact Council recruitment event (a young professional group that provides support for our work), my involvement flowed directly from knowing someone who was passionate about the organization—someone I admired and trusted. That person, Vanessa Reed, was a Board member at the time.
Why did you become involved?
I ultimately felt compelled to. Vanessa invited me to several events benefiting Sasha Bruce beginning in 2009, including what I think was the first of multiple events featuring rock/jazz pianist, ELEW. Anyone reading this who attended one of the ELEW events knows exactly what I’m talking about – they were unforgettable! And it was always great to connect at Sasha Bruce events with other people interested in supporting the organization.
At these events, I was introduced to Debby Shore and was simply blown away by her commitment to young people. And at almost every event, I heard testimonials from young people whose lives had been improved because of Sasha Bruce programs. Those stories stuck with me. The more I learned, the more I wanted to be involved. Becoming a member of the Board presented an opportunity to support the organization not just financially, but in a more deliberate way. I would not only be a supporter but a fiduciary – giving rise to a special relationship that would allow me to help ensure the organization could continue its important work under Debby’s leadership.
What aspect of SBY’s programming is most compelling to you?
“All of it” doesn’t sound like a fair answer, so I’ll put it this way – the integrated and comprehensive nature of the services is what is most significant. The first thing that generally comes to mind when people think about SBY is The Bruce House – the emergency shelter for youth experiencing homelessness in DC. And for good reason. Many people saw President Obama perform one of his Day of Service projects at The Bruce House the day before his first inauguration in January 2009.
But Sasha Bruce has many programs, organized around its Pillars of Opportunity – Safe Homes; Life Skills; and Workforce & Education. In addition to emergency shelter, Sasha Bruce can provide a true spectrum or continuum of services.
It is important to note that Sasha Bruce centers young people’s mental health at the core of everything it does. This might sound like an obvious component of our life skills-focused services, but any sense of the impact of that work quickly goes from abstract to concrete when you hear stories like the one told by a young man named Troy. Troy is a former client of Sasha Bruce, a current employee, and a founding member of the Sasha Bruce Youth Advisory Council, recently renamed The CURB – which stands for Creative Urban Resilient Brilliance and works to elevate the voices of youth served by Sasha Bruce. Troy shared his story in an email that went out to supporters earlier this year. He talked about feeling a sense of comfort and being welcomed when he first visited one of Sasha Bruce’s Drop-In Centers, but it was the regular access to a counselor that made all the difference for him. I had the pleasure of hearing Troy share his story in person at the ribbon cutting ceremony for one of our newest programs, Thrive House, but anyone who reads that email knows what I’m talking about. Coincidentally, the email sharing Troy’s story was sent to supporters the same day my law firm held a service event supporting Sasha Bruce. I read it verbatim to participants after we finished putting together welcome kits for our clients. I could see others were as moved and heartened by Troy’s story as I was.
While we work to stabilize lives, we are also in the empowerment business. Yes, young people are often at their most vulnerable when they first connect with Sasha Bruce, and our dedicated staff meets them where they are. But that includes understanding from day one that they are resilient and as capable of thriving as anyone else – and they are determined to do so. Sasha Bruce’s College and Career program is an excellent example of this empowerment work. Our Board had the pleasure of hearing from the Director of this program, Rachel Curry-Neal, at a recent meeting. Rachel, pictured below with SBY youth, shared how the program provides young people with real tools for success.
What are you hoping to accomplish as Board Chair over the next few years?
My priority is enhanced Board engagement. I want to see the Board commit even more to having purposeful relationships with the organization’s clients and staff as well as each other. A part of this is ensuring that each Board member regularly considers the resources they can bring to the table that might fall outside of the scope of their role on the Board or on one of its committees. I also truly believe great things can develop from simple but intentional efforts to connect with one another more, particularly given the impact the pandemic had on our ability to do so. I’m excited about the opportunity this creates for us to share ideas in a more organic way as a complement to our more structured efforts.
I am also considering the Board’s duty to help set the priorities of the organization. During my term, I am looking forward to continuing to implement our current strategic plan, including making real progress in our effort to investigate the viability of developing a new facility to consolidate related programs and expand housing capacity.
And, in 2024, we will begin the process to establish our next set of organizational goals. It will be an exciting opportunity to look intentionally at what we have accomplished and where we are headed, hopefully with the taxing days of the pandemic behind us. I’m positive that as we look back, we will be impressed with our nimble work during these difficult days, proud of the staff and how they showed up for our young people, and optimistic thanks to our young people’s resiliency. Strengths will be identified, of course, but no doubt, we will also identify ways to ensure Sasha Bruce is even better positioned to meet the next set of challenges. So, in collaboration with Debby Shore, the full Board, and the Sasha Bruce’s staff, I hope that that this process will be meaningful and successful.
Why do you think others should get involved with SBY as volunteers, donors?
Simple! There’s nothing like playing a role in helping to transform young people’s lives for the better. And as caring and talented as they are, our dedicated staff can’t do that alone. We’re always looking for partners. So, I’d say to anyone reading this, please, join us and support our young people and staff in any way you can. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Danny Rico at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can get involved. And, I would be remiss, if I didn’t put in a small plug for you to contribute to our year-end campaign. Thank you!