Sara Speaks: Susan

Photo by Saraswati Amrita Patel

Dear Susan,

Remember, when we were talking a while back, and I told you I looked up the word “minister” and, that its Latin meaning was “servant?“ I got curious about the origin of “service” and looked up “serve.” I could have guessed – “slave” in Latin. I liked the archaic English “minister” far better though: “A person or thing used to achieve or convey something” (my bold – Google’s vagueness makes for artistic license).” Their example was charming – ”The Angels are ministers of Divine Will.” Your ability as an administrator, your brilliance for communication and “attracting” people, came early too. Before a 32-year career, as Executive Director, you were and still are, Rev. Susan Ban.

We’re both private by nature: our association came thru ShelterCare’s Consumer Council 11 years ago. Shortly after we’d met, I was amazed to find out you’d been Executive Director of ShelterCare since 1988. I had to know how ShelterCare got so far so quickly and I’m still working on it! On your advice, I looked up managerial chaos theory. Effective leadership, open communication and a strong guiding vision are its key elements. If I’ve learned anything, by being around you, it’s this – selflessness and an incredibly prodigious drive, rarely encountered together in big business, along with vision and brains can create new paradigms in non-profit thinking. That, and you make it look like a piece of cake. I do know the results. You earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology, studied English, and then received your Master’s in Divinity. The following quotes are from our Voices interview, five years ago. They’re pretty telling. About public speaking, and its being a common phobia, you said: “Articulate; yeah, I read a lot when I was a kid; maybe that’s it. There was a point at which it clicked for me. The message and the communication were more important than me. You’re not in it anymore.” You’re self-educated, understood the job and the need for shifting the agency’s focus on the deinstitutionalized mentally ill and others, veterans and people with acquired psychological issues – a large portion of the chronically homeless. Like the few others, who were ahead of the times, you had little help but persevered. You used the chance to literally invent a mental health services organization that would make a lasting impact. You started as a volunteer, never studied business per se, but you figured out life and saw hope and envisioned a “precious community.” You chose to act. Psychology majors very often are motivated by a previous association, usually from a family member, with a mental illness. You’re exceptional that way. You did this ad-hoc. Your hard work and endurance have literally helped thousands of vulnerable and yet ignored, people off the streets. 1,500 people received services last year alone.

ShelterCare has housed a lot of people who couldn’t stay in The Eugene Mission. That’s quite a feat! Your “precious community” has more going for it than any other provider in the region. In the late Eighties, Eugene Emergency Housing went from a handful of like minded souls, when you started, to around 140 ShelterCare employees as of a couple of years ago. Accredited clinicians, supported housing for Consumers and short-term housing for families, Homeless Outreach, Supported Employment, ShelterCare Medical Recuperation, payees for money management and other skills training. Household resources; like furniture, clothing, etc. Monthly classes and activities like yoga and trips to Food For Lane County. ShelterCare hires our recovered peers. You started the Consumer Council to benefit both us and ShelterCare employees. About you personally. I’ve met more people who, after meeting you, were somehow nonplussed by your candor, and perceived “normalcy,” whatever that is. I think you’re well grounded and all, but very unconventional. The warm, thoughtful demeanor must disarm them. You look intelligent. Another one of your quotes; “I sit at the management team’s meetings, and I’m honored to be sitting in a room full of people who care so deeply, that they do this work. So bright, so good, you know?” Before Lucy Vinis left your Development team and became Mayor, I asked her why she chose to work here – she too was/is passionate about the mission. I know you knew that, before working for ShelterCare, Lucy had a degree in Comparative Religion, among others, and had always worked for non-profits. As a guest, at a Consumer Council meeting, I asked her what her legacy as Mayor would be. Lucy didn’t hesitate – she said her number one priority would be addressing Eugene’s homelessness issue. You and ShelterCare have touched the hearts of thousands beside those of us you’ve helped get off the street. The Board of Directors do this of their own volition because of your mission. You’ve made the agency a fun place to work. Dogs are a common sight at the 499 W. 4th building. Office pranks are unofficially encouraged. Other genii include the knowledge that people need to be appreciated, an artist’s creativity, a mind for mentoring and, Reverend or not, your sense of humour is pretty much epic. I told you I wouldn’t gush. I didn’t have to. Now I might. Your being an inspiration is common knowledge. You’re so humble it’s almost tragic. Those you’ve worked with will miss your unpretentious presence but not the spirit of ShelterCare’s Executive Director’s activism. On a personal note – thank you for helping me out with the writing. We owe it to you to try and pay forward what you’ve taught by example. Talk is cheap and whining is less than useless. You already know…“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” ~Bertrand Russell

I wish you the very best!

Saraswati Amrita Patel

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