Sandy Helling: Making a Difference at CI
Throughout her more than 20 years with Community Impact, Sandy Helling, CI’s Associate Director and the Director of its Adult Programs, has demonstrated unique expertise in organizing long-term and in-depth service projects, motivating volunteers, and utilizing our partnerships with the many friends and neighbors invested in helping CI carry out its mission. As a member of the staff who has promoted the development of CI’s adult programs at every step, her wide-ranging experience and skills bring a valued perspective to all of CI’s projects.
Nothing has reflected Sandy’s comprehensive approach to providing social services more than her work to establish CI’s Jobs and Education Empowerment Project (J.E.E.P.), which includes high school equivalency and English as a Second Language courses and college and job readiness training for adults. The idea for J.E.E.P. was born out of the recognition that educational services needed to be linked to emergency food programs.
“We had volunteers from the community who didn’t have high school diplomas, volunteering alongside college students,” recalled Sandy. “It highlighted an inequitable situation and raised the question of whether we were really helping these volunteers. They were very happy to serve with us, but were we leading them to a better future while our college students were gaining degrees and moving on?”
CI held its first TASC test preparation courses right at the soup kitchen where she and the volunteers spent so much time working. After finishing their work in the kitchen, preparing meals and scrubbing dishware, the soup kitchen volunteers would sit at a table with paper, pencils, and books. “We were able to continue to provide emergency services to families and adults, and at the same time, show them a route that would enable them to improve their standard of living,” she said. “We wanted to provide the community with the tools and credentials they need to improve their lives and find meaningful work, just like Columbia’s college students.”
As Associate Director, Sandy has been instrumental in setting up the building blocks of CI. She has taken a leading role in the development of CI’s administrative, fiscal, evaluations, and fundraising systems. She has written numerous foundation and government grants with a remarkable success rate, including most recently a $2.5 million five-year grant from the New York State Department of Education.
Executive Director Sonia Reese noted that Sandy’s long-term service and commitment to CI has led the organization to be the recipient of grants that recognize CI’s impact in all of its program areas, and, indeed, has made CI the home of one of the top 10 adult education programs in New York State. “Sandy is a crucial leader within the CI team,” she noted.