From Iona House to Today

December 28, 2016

Thirty years. Thirty years. Thirty years? No matter how I say it, to myself or to others, it seems incredible to me that I’ve been working at Iona for thirty years. I really don’t know where the time went. It makes me afraid to blink.

Sally S. White has been on Iona's staff since 1986.
Sally S. White has been on Iona’s staff since 1986.

When I first came to Iona, my office was in a converted bathroom in the former parish house of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church. There was a wooden platform covering the tile floor. The sink and toilet and showerhead had been removed, and I had a working window looking out towards the church. The desk fit perfectly into the shower stall, my clock fit in the soap dish, my bulletin board hung from the towel rack, and I felt so lucky being at Iona that I didn’t mind at all (and we had another staff member working out of a closet, which wasn’t as nice as my converted bathroom). We were called Iona House, which was a bit problematic. People either thought they could move in with us (we’ve never been a residential facility) or that “I own a house.” “Oh,” a woman said to me one time when I said the name, “You live in the neighborhood.”

So what’s different and what has stayed the same in my thirty years?

The commitment of the staff to provide the best care, support, and opportunities to older adults and family caregivers has not changed. The belief that all people have strengths and that we should build on those strengths is and always has been central to our core. The understanding that good people who had good jobs can end up in dire situations because of rising expenses vs. fixed incomes is still a given. And we continue to be a “lead agency” through our very important partnership with the DC Office on Aging, serving as the anchor organization for the Office on Aging supported services in Ward 3 and parts of 2 and 4.

And what has changed?

Outside resources are often scarce, such as funds to provide emergency rental assistance for someone at risk of eviction; and the process of enrolling in public benefits such as Medicaid for our most low income clients is much more complicated — just to name a few.

But, there are good changes too. First, Iona has become more nimble, reaching more broadly into the community with our services, and better responding to changes in the ways people want to age and the needs they are experiencing by creating new programs. Just a few years ago, we launched our popular Take Charge/Age Well Academy for Baby Boomers, and we continue to expand our consultation offerings for adult children seeking guidance as they try to help aging parents and for older adults themselves who want to better prepare for their future. And I feel too that the world is catching up to Iona. For so many years it seemed like a struggle to get people to understand our services and their importance, but now I feel more energy and urgency around services for and needs of older adults and family caregivers.

The biggest changes in these past thirty years, however, might be my own! I am aging in place at Iona — as my colleagues don’t hesitate to remind me. I feel very certain that my path with Iona has been the right one for me, and hopefully for Iona. It may sound like a boring path to many of you out there, and there certainly have been ups and downs along the way, but it has been exciting and interesting and at the end of every day, I get to go home knowing that the staff and volunteers at Iona have done good work, that they brought relief to a stressed out caregiver, delivered a meal to a hungry, isolated older adult, worked on an art project with a person with dementia and much, much more. I can’t imagine wanting more than that.

By Sally S. White

Sally joined Iona as an intake specialist in 1986. Since that time, she has worn many hats including deputy director of programs and services, director of Iona’s adult day health center, director of quality management and — since 2009 — executive director.  With a strong commitment to advocacy and improving the quality of life for all older residents of the District and beyond, Sally is instrumental in the leadership of the city-wide DC Senior Advisory Coalition, which she co-chairs, and the DC Coalition on Long Term Care. 

3 thoughts on “From Iona House to Today”

  1. I’ve known Sally since the 1980s (I’m a longtime friend, not an employee), so I can attest to the following: Sally saw the demographic shifts that were coming to DC (and the country) in her 20s, and unlike most of our peers, she grasped the enormity and the importance of the challenges ahead. But she wasn’t discouraged by that challenge, or by the rather limited resources at hand. (I still remember Sally telling me about her first office — that shower stall — and her good humor about it.) Instead, she was thrilled to be working beside Elizabeth Fox, who was then Iona’s executive director. And she was excited to have an opportunity to work with and for people she clearly admired.

    As Iona grew over the years, so did Sally’s experience and expertise. Programs and services expanded… fundraising became more creative… and Iona’s ties to the community grew stronger. A few years ago, I watched her testify before the D.C. City Council. And as I listened to Sally’s back-and-forth with city officials, it dawned on me how important Sally & Iona had become to seniors and their caregivers in the Washington area.

    Now, when I stop by Iona to have lunch with Sally, I’m always stunned by how far the organization has come… by the wide range of services that Iona now provides… by the energy and vision of Iona’s talented staff… and by Sally’s commitment, her knowledge, her sense of humor, and her obvious love for the people and community she serves. … Happy anniversary, Sally White!

  2. Sally and I have been friends since we were 1st year college roommates at UVa in 1978. I remember when she took the job with Iona House. I also remembering visiting her ‘office’ in the bathroom at the old house. She has truly loved Iona as if were her family all these many years. And, I guess it really IS part of her family. Iona is a fabulous resource for those in need and my family is honored to support it. Iona is lucky to have had Sally all these years. She is one of the strongest, most tireless and selfless people I know and her dedication, defense and advocacy of Iona is remarkable. Well done, Sal and congratulations on 30 amazing years of service! You are the best!

  3. It is wonderful to read these comments from Sally’s old friends! She and I have worked together just three years, but as her Director of Development and Communications, I can say unequivocally that Sally is a wonderful leader. She is a role model for vision, dedication, commitment, calm, balance, and fiscal prudence. Iona is lucky to have her at the helm and I am lucky to work with her every day.

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