“Stepping In” with SSF Volunteer Coordinator, Sarah Schwartz

Sacramento Steps Forward (SSF) has launched a new blog series, “Stepping In: Volunteers Impacting Our Community” to spotlight the incredible individuals making a positive difference in Sacramento through their dedicated community service.  


In this inaugural post, Sarah Schwartz shares her excitement for this opportunity to celebrate individuals and their niche influence on our community, insight on her role as SSF’s Volunteer Coordinator, her motivations, and the impact she’s made in the realm of community service. Read on for our conversation. 

Describe yourself, your role, and why you were motivated to work in the volunteer space.  

I’ve been working in homeless services for almost 10 years now, wearing many different hats. I started off as a volunteer in college, then became a Homeless Outreach Navigator at Sutter Hospital, and eventually transitioned to the Problem-Solving Program Specialist role where I distributed one-time financial assistance to folks experiencing homelessness. During all of this, I was still a volunteer at heart. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic came along, much of my work shifted towards assisting folks with sheltering in place. I also worked more with volunteer groups and grassroots organizations, reminding me that they are where I find the most joy in this field of work! 

My role as Volunteer Coordinator now is focused on building capacity and training at SSF and for our Continuum of Care (CoC) partners. I’m fairly new to this role but was happily thrown right into the busiest time for this position planning the Point-In-Time Count! We recruited hundreds of volunteers for this January’s two-night event. It happens every two years and it requires a lot of preparation. The work continues as we wrap up the 2024 count and prepare for the next in 2026. Stay tuned for the 2024 data coming this spring and future volunteer opportunities for the next count! 


My role also includes engaging and partnering with our Volunteer Network. During major weather events and storm season, one of my roles is to keep folks informed about resources and any opportunities that arise around storm safety and awareness. In partnership with the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and the Sacramento Regional Community Foundation , we were able to acquire a large supply of emergency kits, tents, and sleeping bags that we provided to several outreach teams and volunteers for distribution to folks living outside during the storm season last year. We hope to continue mobilizing our Volunteer Network to respond and provide support to folks living outside during extreme weather and other events (like the COVID-19 pandemic).  


As for my ‘why,’ I want to be a part of long-lasting impactful change in Sacramento. I want to go beyond just feeding a man or even teaching a man to feed, to helping break down the barriers that keep him from feeding himself and empower him to walk over that fallen barrier to a place where he can sustain himself. But why volunteers?  


“Volunteers get me so excited with all the energy they bring to a space. I am continuously humbled and inspired by the love, joy, incredible knowledge, and dedication that volunteers and grassroots organizations bring to the table.” 


 In my experience, no one knows how to help and change things more than those who have experienced the trauma firsthand and have come out of it themselves. So many of the volunteers that I have the honor of working with are folks who have lived experience themselves, family members who are/were experiencing homelessness, or come from the communities that they are serving. These are the people I want to be surrounded by when I do this work and the people who inspire me every day. This is largely what motivates me to do the work that I do. And, as a Volunteer Coordinator, I get to lift folks up and empower volunteers to use all the power they have within themselves to go out and impact their own community!  


Tell us your organization’s mission and goals. What population(s) do you serve? 

Sacramento Steps Forward is committed to ending homelessness through community collaboration, data-driven approaches, and systemic change. It’s important for anyone who comes to us that they understand that we do not necessarily directly serve individuals experiencing homelessness. Instead, our agency supports those who provide direct services to them. As the lead agency for the Continuum of Care and the Homeless Management Information System, we play a pivotal role in coordinating homeless response efforts and ensuring effective data management.  


Why is volunteering with your organization important? How does it lead to a long-lasting impact within our community?  

I believe volunteering for Sacramento Steps Forward is crucial because it allows volunteers to contribute to enduring and meaningful change. The Point-In-Time Count serves as a prime example. Held every two years, it is essentially a census count of individuals experiencing homelessness. This event heavily relies on volunteers to gather vital data that informs policymakers about the necessary funding for homeless services and how it should be allocated. It’s a great opportunity to engage the broader community and a diverse group of individuals in the work of SSF, which is instrumental in creating lasting impact within our community. 


Share a success story of how volunteers have made a difference through your organization? 

I’ll try to keep this short…One of my favorite stories revolves around COVID-19 lockdown. For nearly a year, the SSF homeless outreach team and I distributed meals to encampments along Roseville Road every day. Among the countless faces we encountered, one family stood out: a mom, dad, and two kids living in their trailer. Their son looked a lot like Peter Pan to me with his playful and curious nature which left a lasting impression on me.  

One of my coworkers worked with the family to try and get them into housing but many barriers persisted. During the same time, I was also providing outreach supplies to grassroots groups, including Lifting Spirits Higher, a nonprofit run by a dedicated couple. Despite the pandemic risks, Lifting Spirits Higher also provided meals tirelessly to the folks out on Roseville Road daily. 


A year went by and as the world began to reopen, I attended a Christmas meal event hosted by Lifting Spirits. To my surprise and delight, the family from Roseville Road was there. Through collaborative efforts and fundraising, Lifting Spirits and their church partners fundraised money and coordinated their transition into housing. On top of that, the family was surrounded by Christmas gifts that contained household items, toys for the children, and food/clothing for the family. This was a moment that really highlighted the power of volunteers and a community coming together to help one another. 


What are the elements of a successful volunteer in the homeless response system? 

“Anyone working within the homeless response system needs to practice good humility, dedication, willingness to embrace discomfort for growth, and open-mindedness”    

A successful volunteer recognizes the complexity of the issue, understands there is no single solution and is prepared for the challenges ahead. Solving homelessness is no easy task  We should uplift others and ourselves, remain committed for the long haul, engage in difficult conversations for personal growth, and remain receptive to alternative solutions. Despite the intricacies of data and systems, the core of this work is centered on compassion and human connection, uplifting individuals during challenging times and fostering a supportive community. 


How can individuals or groups get involved with volunteering? Are there any specific requirements or qualifications? How can other organizations collaborate or partner with you?  

Currently, SSF offers specific volunteer opportunities through various committees focused on ensuring the Sacramento CoC’s core responsibilities are met. Some of these committees include the Point-In-Time Count, Racial Equity Committee, and Coordinated Access Committee. Additionally, every two years, we recruit hundreds of volunteers for the Point-In-Time Count, with the next count set for 2026. For those seeking volunteer opportunities beyond SSF’s scope, we encourage them to explore volunteer opportunities with our CoC partners, as they often engage in more direct outreach and thus offer a wider range of volunteer opportunities. 




Sarah Schwartz celebrates service by “giving back and passing it along.” As a strong advocate for community involvement in ending homelessness, she emphasizes the need for volunteers to understand the complexity and power of their role. Despite not offering traditional volunteer opportunities, SSF values engaging volunteers in system-level work, such as the Point-In-Time Count and the Continuum of Care committees.  


SSF is also committed to empowering grassroots organizations and expanding volunteer efforts to support vulnerable communities during weather events and disasters. Additionally, SSF aims to empower grassroots organizations with resources, training, and tools to assist individuals whom we may not have as much access to. We hope to expand our efforts in mobilizing volunteer groups during weather events and disasters to support the most vulnerable communities. 


We invite you to be part of this inspiring initiative by following this series and sharing your experiences and insights with us to spread awareness about the impactful work of volunteers and volunteer agencies across our region. Together, let’s celebrate the power of service and create lasting connections throughout Sacramento.  




April 1, 2024 | Published by Sacramento Steps Forward