by Sonya Priestly, Saranam supporter and past Board Member


Sometimes the universe aligns just right to bring very special people into our lives. Sonya Priestly is one of those we have been lucky enough to know.

She just finished up an incredibly dynamic term on our Board of Directors, and we caught up with her to ask what Saranam has meant to her and how she brings her passion for thriving families to life at Saranam.


I learned about Saranam over seven years ago when I was fortunate enough to meet my now dear friend, Elaine Soloman. We shared our interests and activities with each other over an idyllic fall walk and Elaine spoke so warmly about her involvement with Saranam. The more she told me, the more excited I became. The program covered every area that I thought was necessary to help a family overcome poverty and homelessness- all while receiving an education!

I have forever held the view that education is the key to fixing most of the social ills we experience. But it is a difficult journey without support. Saranam provides the help necessary to achieve an education and to learn valuable life skills that can change the lives of people determined to make a better life for themselves and their children.

BMWevent.JPGI got involved as soon as possible. My first adventure was decorating an apartment with my daughters, my son-in-law, and my granddaughters. We worked hard to make it special for the family we imagined would inhabit this apartment. It was a fun family experience and an opportunity for my young granddaughters to learn about the many ways they can be of help and service to their community.

I threw myself in from there- asking everyone I knew to donate items they no longer needed, picking up household items, clothing and furniture from people around town, and taking countless trips to and from the warehouse with my friends, and their friends, and their friends stuff!

Not too long after I began with the practical work, I was asked to join the Board. I was honored and served as a proud Board member for 6 years. It is, indeed, a WORKING Board! There are so many volunteer opportunities at Saranam, and the Board participates in every aspect of the program.

I very much like to be “hands-on” and I thoroughly enjoyed the work I did.


It was Sue Rzendzian, Saranam’s former Director of Development, who recruited me to help her with fundraising. I was a novice, but even though it was sometimes uncomfortable, I soon realized that it isn’t so

hard to ask if you really believe in the program. And I also learned – from Sue – that the absolute worst thing that can happen is being told, “no.” I learned a lot from her!

One of the aspects that has always intrigued me about Saranam is the “vetting” process for new families. The staff recommends the families they believe, based on some tough criteria, will be successful. But the highest hurdle is set by letting the current families determine which candidates they believe are ready. The current families know there is a LOT of work involved and they are often able to spot when someone isn’t quite ready yet. They know that success depends on starting AND completing the two-year journey.


Saranam’s program is unique, and critical to help people who, for whatever reasons, aren’t on the typical path.

The blend of academics, life skills, child well-being, and community support all work together to make it a model program for lifting people out of homelessness and breaking the chain of poverty to enable future generations to succeed.

All of us involved with Saranam love hearing the stories of the first families to graduate, how their lives have continued in a positive way, and how the lives of their children have been unmarred by poverty and homelessness. Two years is a long commitment, but I believe it is the necessary time to teach the skills necessary to change your life forever.

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