Sarah Barrier Blanton – Class of 2003
Director of Development, Safe Harbor, Hickory

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” These words, attributed to legendary actress Audrey Hepburn, have provided much inspiration to Sarah Barrier Blanton, who serves as the Director of Development at Safe Harbor in Hickory.

Safe Harbor of NC is a faith-based non-profit organization founded in 2004 that offers women who are struggling with substance use disorder and experiencing homelessness the opportunity to rebuild, renew, and recover. Sarah’s duties are to connect and engage with the community in order to raise awareness and to seek funding for the work they do.

“Since we are a Christ centered organization,” explains Sarah, “in order to maintain religious liberty, our funding comes primarily from individuals, churches, businesses, and foundations. I am continually blown away by the generosity of our community members. My job involves attending many events and speaking with groups, keeping our patrons informed of the work that we do; in return, they trust us with their dollars because they know that we are using them for good. The people have such a heart for our mission, they know where their money goes, and they feel as if they are a part of something larger than themselves. For example, all of our facilities that house our offices and programs have been gifted to us by this generous community. We also try to outsource as many of our services as possible so that the community is even more involved. Another source of funding is Safe Harbor’s Resource Warehouse Thrift Store on Highway 70 in Hickory, where the public can donate and purchase items.

“We take a wholistic and comprehensive approach by developing a relationship with each woman. Our approach is transformational; we listen to each of our ladies and hear their stories. By recognizing them as valuable individuals, we can better help them piece their lives back together. Our accredited 12-month residential recovery program called the Whole Woman provides a comprehensive addiction recovery process at no cost to the participants. Helping women recover from substance use disorder is only part of what we do. We address mental, physical, health, legal, educational, and relationship issues as well; we work with whatever challenge each woman faces in order to help her move forward with her life. The opposite of addiction is connection, and at Safe Harbor we make it a practice to connect with each individual.

“Our transitional accredited housing program called Green Leaf provides low-cost, furnished apartments to women who have successfully completed the program and are gainfully employed. We give them financial guidance and training for planning and structuring their lives. Many who have lost contact with their children can again reunite with them, and our program called Hope on Wheels helps them to get a much-needed vehicle.

“Our community center offers a safe environment during the day to women and children who are experiencing homelessness. We provide access to help with basic needs such as laundry and showers, and we work toward assisting them in locating housing. Our main goal is to help them find jobs so they can move forward and become self-sufficient.

“In addition, our transitional program called the Passage helps women who have a high level of vulnerability in our society, many of whom have untreated mental health issues and have experienced chronic homelessness. Spurred by the Covid crisis, one of our donors generously supplied a house that can accommodate six women who need this special support.”

While a student, Sarah found both inspiration and guidance in music and in social work. “The chorus was always my refuge. Angie Cannon, our middle school chorus teacher, always told us to ‘do what you love and love what you do.’ She made me happy; making us happy made her happy. She made a special effort to provide me with opportunities to shine. I love doing creative things, and she helped me find joy in performing.

“Even during middle school, I heard about the East Burke Chamber Singers, both from Miss Cannon and from my parents, and I wanted to be a part. So I wasted no time signing up for the choral program, beginning with the Mixed Chorus, which was jointly led by Jonathan Berry and Dena Carpenter and later by Renee Shatley. In chorus we learned to practice discipline; Mrs. Shatley reminded us that we were representing our school and insisted that we ‘do it right.’ We, in turn, found much joy both in the singing and in the act of striving for excellence.

“One especially influential East Burke teacher was George Henne. I loved his psychology class. He was one of the first people who helped me to shape my approach to humanity in a personal way. So many people make fun of those with mental health issues, but Mr. Henne spoke with compassion and humanity. I was both touched and motivated by our discussions about social and mental health issues, so I chose to do my senior project on teenage depression. Bill Poteat, my senior English teacher, was very encouraging and guided me through the process. It was a beginning of my journey as an advocate for those who need help.”

After high school, Sarah attended Catawba Valley Community College, where, as a member of their highly regarded show choir, her love for music was again a guiding force. She earned two Associate Degrees, one in Psychology and one in Sociology, and then went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from the Appalachian State University campus in Hickory. “For me, distance learning was a wonderful thing. I was able to attend class with adults who were working in the social work field. Our class discussions were so helpful because they were about real-life situations and included a great deal of practical information. In addition, I, too, was able to work in the social work field while I attended classes, so I could apply what I was learning every day. It was really an ideal educational experience.”

Sarah began doing social work at 21 and credits more people than she can name as inspirations, both instructors and co-workers. She spent seventeen years working in the area of addiction recovery, a field that has always fascinated her. “I have found so many creative and innovative people who have recovered from substance use disorder, and it is a very gratifying experience.”

She has worked in many different roles in the area of social work and has answered to a number of job titles. She has earned several certifications that have served to advance her career. One place of employment was Cognitive Connection in Hickory, a provider of outpatient substance use treatment. “Working there was a really rich experience. I had wonderful colleagues, and we all worked well together. If we saw something that needed to be done, we would simply do it regardless of our job description. It was a real team effort.”

Sarah reflects on how her high school experience made a real difference in the very meaningful career that she has today. “Chorus was my refuge. Music helps bring people together; it unifies and heals. I still enjoy singing and am inspired by it. But music helped to equip me for other challenges. Just as I found my voice in choral music, I have become a voice for the ladies at Safe Harbor. Everyone needs a voice, and I am grateful to be theirs until they can find their own.”

Visit Website | Make Donation

Published May 2024

Home Page