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Hands-On Help

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.

Sonya Priestlysonyaheadshot.jpg

By |2021-07-08T23:08:15+00:00June 17, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Nourishing Change

by Stephanie Johnston, Family Stability Advocate

veggies.jpgMarch is national nutrition month! Addressing hunger is so much more than just filling a belly. Learning about and accessing healthy foods has huge implications for the stability of a person’s transition from homelessness.

We are so lucky that our Family Stability Advocate, Stephanie Johnston, is also a licensed nutritionist. We took some time to talk to her about it.

Why is nutrition so important to you?

I’ve always had a passion for cooking and I really enjoy feeding my family healthy foods. When I changed careers a few years ago, I knew I wanted to make nutrition a bigger part of my life. I’ve come to discover that it touches every facet of our world- from the federal budget to individual mental, dental, and physical health.

How do we integrate nutrition into our work at Saranam?


Our first-year students are required to take Ideas for Nutrition and Cooking, “ICAN” through New Mexico State University, and in the alumni program I offer ideas for healthy cooking on a budget. Saranam also pays for some extracurricular activities for the kids in the program and that goes hand-in-hand with healthy eating.

I find that a lot of nutrition starts with simple exposure to foods, so I also always make it a point to offer healthy snacks– fruit and vegetable trays, infused waters, and the like at our meetings.

Community has a huge impact on nutrition as well, especially as a parent. Having someone else there to come up with food ideas or share food with is so helpful. One of the big ways we do this is incorporating gardening in our curriculum.


What is the link between poverty and nutrition?

cookingpic.JPGWell of course, food insecurity is synonymous with poverty- but the impact is deeper than that.

Not having food security or any control over what we can eat can also be extremely stressful and discouraging. When a family experiences homelessness, they often don’t have access to refrigeration, food storage, a stove, a blender, etc., so it’s hard to prepare healthy foods. It’s empowering for families to have a choice of foods and know that they have the capacity to provide for their families’ health, rather than just focusing on survival.

This self-sufficiency is something we don’t often think of. It’s crucial to not take away people’s autonomy over the foods they eat, but to teach them the right balance to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. There are no bad foods- there are just foods we should eat more of than others.


Also, it may seem counterintuitive, but obesity and poverty are linked. When someone’s income is limited, you focus your dollars on what will fill your belly up and not what is necessarily healthy. And foods that are less healthy are sometimes less expensive. Doing this for extended periods of time can be harmful.

It sounds like there are long-term effects of poor nutrition. Is that right?


Of course. There is research that shows your insulin resistance decreases with a steady diet of simple carbs. When that happens, your energy drops and you just don’t operate at full capacity.

There have also been countless studies that show kids who eat well do better in school, have fewer behavior problems, and better attendance. And those things compound over the years.

We know that poverty often follows a generational cycle. Is the same true of nutrition?

Our eating preferences develop very young- sometimes even in utero. We learn as we cook and eat together as a family- something we don’t get anywhere else now.


There is also the added layer of the adverse health effects of poor nutrition. There is a rise in medical costs that can weigh down a family for life and prevent families from being able to afford higher education, stable housing, etc. – things that really pay off in the end.

What projects do you have coming down the pike to deepen our nutrition program?


There is no magic bullet to improve nutrition, but we always make sure to use evidence-based activities and programs to make it as effective as possible.

I have started collaborating with Mesa View United Methodist Church to do some low-cost, healthy cooking videos for families in the alumni program. We’ll be focusing on recipes that can be prepared in a short time and use less equipment, such as a sheet pan meal, and calculating the cost per serving and nutritional information of those meals. I hope to host some in-person cooking classes as well.

I also think making things like new seasonings available is crucial. Some things can be an investment, but they are often what makes food taste appealing.

What are your favorite websites to learn more about this?

Ellyn Satter Institute: She did seminal work in this area focusing on feeding relationships. For example, just putting healthy foods out and making it fun to try new things. Eating to enjoy each other.

Eating Well: This website has great recipe ideas. You can just put in an ingredient and it will give you tons of ideas.

USDA SNAPed: This is just chalk-full of resources, games, and information.

By |2021-07-08T23:07:54+00:00June 17, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Building Foundations for Life- We Thrive!

We’ve always known how important our work is, but 2020 showed just how many families are at risk of losing everything. It would have been easy for a family to fall through the cracks. It would have been easy for them to fall behind. But they didn’t at Saranam. Here is our wonderful Director of Development, Dianne Campbell, to tell us why we need your help to bring in 10 new families to Saranam in 2021.

Imagine being a parent in 2020 who was facing homelessness in the middle of a pandemic. As a mom, I can think of few things more frightening. Last year, 10 families confronted this but were able to find refuge at Saranam. We want to do it again.

As I look back on the year, I’m so proud of how we maintained our commitment to our families with the pandemic raging around us. Whenever I was asked in 2020 how we were doing, I could honestly say we were doing the exact same things we always do, just from home- and so were our families. We shifted to all our classes online, we did contactless drop-off of supplies and we moved our community to Zoom. In short, we removed families’ immediate worries, so they just had to focus on their education and health- just like the rest of us. We, and our families, remained stable and kept moving forward.

It wasn’t easy, by any means, for any of us. But there have been so many times this year that I have told family and friends how lucky I feel to come to work every day.

I feel so fortunate to be in a place where in two years, you can see folks totally turn around their lives for themselves and their kids.

This is why I love my job- it matters so much.

The reality is that the pandemic could have been the start of another 10 cycles of generational poverty. But it wasn’t. In fact, we had an 85% success rate in 2020. And 25 families- 28 adults and 54 children- are safe because of you.

This spring, I invite you to help us do it again. I ask you to become a part of our Building Foundations for Life- We Thrive annual campaign. Each year it is this campaign that enables us to bring in 10 new families. Our goal is to raise $350,000. That’s just $35,000 for everything a family would need for a year.

Every little bit helps. We’re happy to announce that we have been given TWO challenge gifts to support entire families. That means this is your chance to help FOUR families erect the foundations of their new lives at Saranam.

So, we challenge YOU to reach out to a friend, spread the word, and plant the seed of change today. We stuck together in 2020, and if we work together as a community, we can change the lives of another 10 families in 2021. Thank you for your support and being a part of the Saranam family.

Donate Now
Watch just how important your gift is to a family!

Thank you for your support! from SaranamABQ on Vimeo.

By |2021-07-08T23:07:36+00:00June 17, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Putting Mental Health First

by Saranam Staff Contributors: Jennifer Mullen, Director of Family Services and Ian Vetter, Director of Education


May is Mental Health Awareness Month and since this is a core part of our program, we thought it was important that we go through the fundamentals- the w’s- about how we put mental health first.


Everybody who walks through our doors has a story, a history, and their own struggles. Not only does the stress of experiencing homelessness take a toll, most of the people we serve have also experienced trauma or abuse, which can lead to other mental health issues that we help each other heal from as well.

We work hard to destigmatize mental health and encourage everyone- families and staff alike- to prioritize it and care for themselves.

“I used to think that being vulnerable was a weakness, but not anymore. Now I see how it opened me up – I was able to express what I feared, how I felt, and that let (staff) understand me and help teach me how to do better and be different. It helped me move in the right direction.” -Saranam alumni


We uphold a commitment to non-judgment, and we work from that principle to normalize taking care of our mental health. It is so important for us to create a safe space to heal, to examine yourself without shame, and ask for help.

From day one, we actively give the message that Saranam gives you the time to “work” on yourself – we encourage and take pride in the internal healing and changes that our parents and children make.

“This kind of work is waaay harder than passing a class. And acknowledging and celebrating those (victories) is extra important because no one gets a certificate for good work in therapy!” -Saranam Director of Family Services

Our supportive community model is built to encourage this healing. Living in community with each other not only provides relief for the isolation and loneliness that often accompanies homelessness, but it also provides daily, positive interactions that develops families’ feelings of value and worth.


Mental health is a central part of every pillar of our program. Apart from the work families do privately, reflection and understanding are paired with hands-on techniques throughout all of our curriculum. Some examples include:


In college success, we learn about the role stress plays in brain development, relationships, and the learning process. We discuss any personal barriers to learning and how we can use our past experiences to make education achievable and even enjoyable.

Our effective communication class gives both parents and children alike the tools to better communicate their needs and wants. By understanding how our communication and personality styles work together, we can better know how to interact with others and reduce frustration and anger.

In our Growth, Connection, and Community class, we encourage our students to use gardening as a relaxing, grounding technique to connect with our communities and invest in caring for the natural world.


Mental health isn’t a finish line; it is something we work on for our entire lives. Learning appropriate tools at every stage of life helps us grow and adapt to challenges.


One of the most important things we can do is ensure parents are not pouring from an empty cup. Giving adults the know-how to access services and help, prioritize self-care and mindfulness, and set attainable goals reduces stress and builds resilience so they can give energy and attention to their children.

“My mindset is different because I’m not scared to accomplish things on my own anymore. I am on a much better relationship with myself. And I put that first now …and really put my best self into my goals for them and (me).” -Saranam alumni

We also give parents the agency to promote mental health in their homes. In our parenting classes parents learn about childhood development and gain context for their child’s behavior. This allows parents to effectively guide their children through life skills classes where they can layer tools onto their knowledge and practice together in a safe space. Over time these skills strengthen bonds, ease children’s anxiety, and even heal trauma.


“My parenting has improved – I have a better balance between my priorities and needing spend time with my son. I am more patient. I have better confidence, so I deal with (him) better.”- Saranam alumni.

The effect compounds over time. Children become less stressed with consistent care and attention, which trickles down into better behavior at home and higher gains at school. And as children become more stable, their parents feel more determined and capable of making these changes permanent.

At the end of the day, families succeed as a team.



Mental health is at the center of everything we do. We are better and more effective parents, students, employees, and community members when we feel safe, balanced, and confident.

As an organization dedicated to trauma-informed care, we know that healing from the adversity that we have experienced and learning from our setbacks enables us to start the next chapter of our story with strength and resilience.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please call SAMHSA’s national hotline or New Mexico Crisis Line.

By |2021-07-08T23:07:13+00:00June 17, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A Decade of Service

by Saranam staff and alumni


This month marks the 10-year anniversary of a very special person at Saranam- our Director of Family Services, Jennifer Mullen.

Like many of our staff, Jen first joined us as a volunteer, and even then, the impact she could have on families was evident. The very first family she was paired with became the first to meet all six of our measures of success and went on start a thriving career after finishing business school.

As she came on board as Saranam’s case manager, her influence only deepened, becoming a huge part of the transformations of the 103 families (including 211 children!) she has helped in her decade with us.

Jen embodies all that families experiencing homelessness crave- consistency, respect, honesty and empowerment. Throughout their two years, a family is never alone with Jen at their side. She walks beside them, hand on their backs, ushering them forward with a Yoda-esque ability to discern when they need a push or support.

Her efforts have proven successful time and time again, as dozens of families point to Jen’s guidance as a critical in their journey home.

“Her impact on my time at Saranam was a major reason I completed the 2 years and graduated from both CNM & Pima. I hadn’t had someone truly believe in me in many years.”

What’s her secret? Well, part of it is that Jen has a special talent for ensuring that the ownership of change rests firmly in the hands of the people she is helping. She offers tools and constant cheerleading but makes sure to build a family’s confidence in their capacity for change.


This proves crucial because, as we well know, the reasons behind homelessness are unique and often complex to tackle. Likewise, there is no single solution that will be feasible for every family. It would be easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. But Jen never is. Unwaveringly nonjudgmental, she tackles each issue with a calm, learned approach that makes any problem feel manageable.

Beyond her evident skill in working with families is a commitment to learning and consistently elevating the level of practice she provides. That erudition has also been instrumental in our work to validate our model and grow our success to where it is today.

As in all her work, she shares her knowledge to help others be the best they can be. Not only does she bring trainings to continuously enhance our work, she has become a leader in community circles, providing the boots-on-the-ground input necessary to push community progress forward too.

With an easy laugh and an ear that is always bent toward you, she is a pillar of the family atmosphere that envelops you at Saranam. We’re grateful she has been part of our family for over a decade and hope you will join us in thanking her for her commitment to our mission.

To celebrate, we asked several alumni to share with us what Jen has meant to their journey and their success. As you see, her impact will endure for many decades to come..




By |2021-07-08T23:08:34+00:00May 18, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments
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