Investing in leadership training requires commitment, and one member of our Solid Ground community is doing just that through JustLead Washington’s Leadership Academy. This year-long training opportunity brings together a network of community leaders representing organizations working toward equity for marginalized communities.
Sara Robbins, Solid Ground Benefits Legal Assistance (BLA) Program Manager, shares her experience with JustLead, now midway through a nine-month group-based training for attorneys, managers and legal advocates. The training takes a big personal and professional commitment, “Something I’ve wanted to do for a couple years but I haven’t felt I have had the capacity to do” until now, says Sara, who applied for and received the fellowship this year.
The training consists of remote learning and four quarterly retreats, where they conduct small group discussions and lectures adhering to the value wheel at the core of the curriculum, with spokes including Systems Thinking, Communicating Strategic Intent, and Delivering Strategic Intent, among others. Built on the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s Leadership for Justice model, the curriculum guides fellows to understand the roots of poverty as they lie within systemic racism and other oppressions.
Sara explains that “To me, asking why we do things in a certain way, [and] asking who’s at the table to have those conversations” is of particular significance to her work at Solid Ground. The training’s implications come into sharp focus when Sara describes what she feels is her department’s goal: “making a bigger systems change.”
Bringing it back to their work, Sara says that the bulk of BLA’s caseload are state disability cases including Aged, Blind or Disabled (ABD) and Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) Referral Program, which provides access to rental assistance and other needs for those experiencing short-term disability. She explains that there is a big imbalance between HEN and the state’s long-term disability plan. With the latter, individuals receive $197 per month, potentially threatening them with eviction and subsequent homelessness.
“As a manager, making sure that I am empowering everyone in my program … and making space for everyone to have a voice and participate in the work” is imperative. ~Sara Robbins, Benefits Legal Assistance Program Manager
Individuals come to Sara and her program in fear of losing the HEN assistance. “Even though we could help some people” maintain their HEN assistance and keep them housed, “we weren’t helping enough people. So we, with our partners, changed the law in last year’s legislative session. Now those with long-term disability get both benefits.” This means that individuals receiving $197 from the long-term disability plan are now eligible for HEN, as well; a true systems change breakthrough for those impacted by the previously counterintuitive law.
Sara says the balance between work and the training “has been pretty manageable,” and she is now looking forward to the next retreat, where “we all present our own personal leadership stories, and why you do what you do.”
Reflecting on her experience thus far, Sara says, “As a manager, making sure that I am empowering everyone in my program” is imperative, as is “making space for everyone to have a voice and participate in the work” in whatever way they are able.
Here at Solid Ground and throughout Seattle, our community will benefit from Sara’s commitment to grow as a leader as she continues to be an advocate for those who desperately need one.