Sarah Gagne ’97
Today’s SJA Shining Star is Sarah Gagne ’97. Sarah is the Recreation Supervisor for the City’s Community Services Division in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has worked with an amazing team to ensure that programs for children of essential workers and services for community members experiencing homelessness could continue during the pandemic.
As the Recreation Supervisor, Sarah’s typical responsibility would be for the daily operations of a community center which supports a largely lower-income sector of the community. Services provided include reduced fee options for early learning, youth and fitness, and health and wellness programming.
When the pandemic hit their community, there was a need to find an alternative location to house those experiencing homelessness; one that would provide a larger space and allow for physical distancing. The community center Sarah oversaw was chosen for that site and repurposed as an emergency day and overnight shelter with the help of multiple community partnerships. The center now provides meal services, hand washing and sanitization stations, health screens, and isolation and triage rooms. From mid-March to mid-June they have served 150-200 people daily in order to keep that vulnerable population safe and healthy throughout the pandemic.
This meant that Sarah’s role shifted overnight.
Her Recreation Manager, Jason Chadock shared the following about Sarah:
With the onset of a global pandemic and the facility she normally supervises unavailable, Sarah quickly looked at safety measures and potential partners to ensure summer childcare and recreation opportunities would continue to be a reality for the children and families that depend on these services. Her dedication to the process was unwavering as she worked tirelessly through many obstacles to partner with the School District for a site location, the City’s Human Resources Department to provide child care services for essential workers including fire, police and utility workers, and also with the City’s Social Sustainability Department to develop and secure funding to fully scholarship families in financial need who are experiencing temporary or a lack of housing due to the pandemic.
The summer childcare program Sarah helped to set up serves 120 children per day out of a local elementary school following all health and safety guidelines. The school also serves as a meal service site, with free lunches provided to all camp kids and to over 100 community members as a drive-up option available daily.
Sarah had just started working for the city one week before the facility closures and the beginning of the Stay-at-Home order from the Governor. She shared:
It truly felt impossible on many days, as each hurdle we overcame only seemed to present 5 additional ones to work through. It was only through relationships, partnerships and the dedication of many people in various sectors of our community that we were able to finally open our doors on June 1.
The resiliency and dedication of my co-workers and fellow community members make me remember why I fell in love with this town so many years ago. Being a new employee with the City, I needed to initiate these conversations from a virtual environment and approach my proposals to coordinate these strategic partnerships without the background to support it. Every single person I interacted with had something valuable to bring to the table and enrich the efforts our department was tasked with. Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and reading the grateful feedback from the families has been incredibly rewarding.
Congratulations to Sarah on successfully navigating a new position and to forming partnerships to ensure essential services could continue. It’s amazing to see what can be accomplished when people come together to tackle community needs during these challenging times.