Alumni Feature: Sarah Ryan
November is Homelessness Awareness Month. Alumna Sarah Ryan has worked in homeless services over the past three years at St. Catherine’s, where she is now a supervisor for the Pathways to Health outreach team. Using the social determinants of health, the Pathways team targets housing and food insecurity and works to ensure appropriate access to the health care system. Using this model, the team aims to reduce health disparities among low or no-income individuals in the community.
Sarah Ryan BSW '19, MSW '21
When I first applied for the UAlbany social welfare program, I had a one-track mind of where my social work journey would take me. I wanted to work with individuals with substance use disorders and gave little thought to any other form of social work. Although I did not know it at the time, I can now pinpoint the experiences that altered my social work journey and led me to where I am in my career today.
As an undergrad student at the University at Albany, a professor came into one of my first social work classes to discuss a volunteer opportunity aimed at ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food for those in need. I decided to check it out. My preconceived notions led me to believe I would simply pass out food in a soup kitchen to individuals experiencing homelessness. Instead, I ended up at Food Not Bombs, an organization that believes in the value and worth of all individuals and displayed this by creating healthy food access for individuals from all walks of life. From this experience, I learned of food insecurity and the impact of living in a food desert, a city lacking accessible fresh and nutritious food. This experience altered my perception and forced me to (uncomfortably) break down my bias toward the population of individuals without stable housing, food, or income. As time went on, I was on a first-name basis with the individuals at Food Not Bombs and would look forward to our weekly meals and conversations.
After two years of volunteering, I entered the MSW program and listed “homeless services” as an area of interest for my generalist field placement. That is what lead me to St. Catherine’s. I had the opportunity to intern for Project HOST, where the goal was to intervene with individuals living on the street or in the local shelters and aid in their transition into permanent supportive housing. I was lucky to have the chance to intern under a team of passionate case managers who shared invaluable knowledge of the resources that the program and the community had to offer. I was able to work closely with clients and grew to love the role.
As Covid began, internships ended suddenly. I found myself at home, completing my field hours by reading a homeless prevention and intervention textbook and reflecting on the research presented. Although I had completed my hour requirement about a quarter of the way through the text, I was so intrigued that I read the text front to back. As I wrapped up the first year of my master's degree, St. Catherine’s was working on developing a new homeless outreach program called Pathways to Health. Having just completed my internship, the agency invited me to apply for a case worker position. Soon I found myself working with the team I had once interned for. Through this program, we can meet individuals where they are through street outreach. We provide access to food, shelter, housing, and long-term connections to our community's vast array of resources. As years with the agency went by, I continued to love my work. I am still with the program and have the privilege of being a program supervisor.