As the chief of community development for Sheppard Pratt, Sarah Norman wears a lot of hats—sometimes literally.
Last spring, she and her team donned animal ears and tiaras to inject fun into the COVID-19 vaccination clinics they facilitated across Maryland.
“My team was working nights and weekends, and just going above and beyond to pivot to serve the community. We set up vaccine sites in places where our clients would feel most comfortable. I thought, ‘The least we could do is make it fun!’” recalls Norman.
Norman’s spirit of joie de vivre serves her well in a job that can be as demanding as it is rewarding. In her work for Sheppard Pratt, she oversees housing, employment, health navigation and supportive services for veterans and individuals who have disabilities.
Sheppard Pratt’s Veterans Services Center, located in Fells Point, provides comprehensive services for homeless or housing insecure veterans, such as stable housing, substance use treatment, free meals, job training, educational resources and transportation. Recently, the center also began offering culinary training in its commercial kitchen, thanks to a grant from SunTrust. All told, Norman and her team help more than 1,200 veterans and their family members with housing, employment, health navigation and other needs.
After graduate school, Norman was the bureau chief for the Baltimore City Health Department. Eventually, she realized she wanted to effect change on a national level, so she transferred to Washington. There, Norman became the policy advisor for Rep. Louise Slaughter. In this role, she also had the opportunity to author legislation enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which addressed military sexual assault.
She describes her current role with Sheppard Pratt as coming full circle—her work exists at the intersection of health and housing.
Norman proudly shares the story of one client who is thriving today, thanks to a combination of his own hard work and the services he received from the Veterans Services Center. This gentlemen was released from prison in 2020 and living in transitional housing. In spite of his criminal record, Norman’s team found an employer who was willing to give him a chance. They helped him become trained as a forklift operator. His on-the-job dedication and hard work earned him two promotions in the span of a few months. When his new management-level position required him to have transportation, the Veterans Services Center stepped in and removed this latest roadblock to his success, connecting him with Vehicles for Change. Today, he lives in permanent housing and earns a good salary in his new career.
“Seeing the progress of our clients fuels me,” says Norman. “Wanting to see them succeed gets me running from the moment I get up—and occasionally keeps me up at night! Despite the work we’ve done, I have a keen sense of work we still need to do.”