Sally White’s Iona journey began 30 years ago, when she arrived fresh out of graduate school. Three decades later, she is a leader in the field of aging and champion of the rights of older adults and their caregivers.
“As my colleagues like to remind me, I’m aging in place with Iona,” Sally recently told a group of visitors.
“I came to Iona because I had a wonderful grandmother who was one of my best friends,” she says. “I came to Iona because I worked on the psychiatric ward of a hospital when I was in college and couldn’t understand why there were so many depressed older people in the ward. Now I know why: all the losses they suffered and the lack of meaning in their lives for many who are no longer working. And I came to Iona because my parents were older than most of my peers’ parents and, for much of my childhood, I was more comfortable talking to their friends than to people my own age.”
In her time at Iona, Sally has worn nearly every hat, from intake specialist to director of the Wellness & Arts Center, from deputy director of programs and services to director of quality management — and more.
For the past seven years, she has served as executive director. Sally’s first office was in a converted bathroom in a former parish house. Today, she oversees a staff of 48 in Iona’s 20-year-old Isabella Breckenridge Center on Albemarle Street in Northwest Washington.
Under her leadership, Iona has added new programs to meet the growing needs of older adults (such as the Take Charge/Age Well Academy), continues to expand its care management services, and is planning the upcoming expansion of its Wellness & Arts Center, which is currently bursting at the seams. With a strong commitment to improving the quality of life for all older residents of the District and beyond, Sally also is instrumental in the leadership of the city-wide DC Senior Advisory Coalition, which she co-chairs.
For Sally, this work is personal. “When my father developed dementia, I watched helplessly as this brilliant man, and my unbelievably patient and kind mother, struggled through the highs and lows and the thousand goodbyes that mark the progression of this terrible disease.” That is one motivation for her efforts to identify the best ways to support both older adults and their family caregivers now and in years to come.
Thirty years after arriving, Sally pours her heart into Iona “because of the thousands of people whose lives have been changed for the better and, in quite a few instances, whose lives Iona has literally saved. I’m at Iona because the staff and volunteers are the most compassionate, dedicated, and talented group of people I have ever known. And I’m at Iona because I get to witness the most wonderful celebrations and appreciations of the miracles – both big and small – that happen every day.”
And, she adds, “I’m here because I feel like the world and our community are finally catching up to Iona – recognizing the challenges of aging that we face today and looking to Iona to help them face those challenges and make the most of the opportunities of aging. Today, my vision – our vision – is that every older adult and his or her family in this city and around the region can easily find and get the help they need when they need it.”
By Janice Kaplan