Charting a path, supporting the homeless

September 7, 2021

Sarah Massaro, M.S. ’22

A student in La Salle’s M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership program is making a difference for members of the homeless community in Easton, Pa.

Sarah Massaro, M.S. ’22, maintains several titles.

Professionally, she’s a fundraiser and a marketer, an educator and an advocate. At home, for 4-year-old Noah, she’s “Mom.” And at La Salle University, she’s a graduate student in the Master of Science program in Nonprofit Leadership.

“My life definitely requires time-management and balance,” Massaro said with a laugh.

By day, Massaro serves as the director of development for Safe Harbor Easton—a program-based homeless shelter that houses up 50 people and provides individual support plans that cater to the residents’ goals and provide a three-phase behavioral modification system.

Sarah Massaro, M.S. ’22It’s fascinating, Massaro said recently, how an internship spawned a career that became her calling. Her introduction to Safe Harbor Easton came while studying biology as an undergraduate at Lafayette College. A native of Ledyard, Conn., she had led the men’s lacrosse team to the shelter one day for a painting project and learned of an internship opening. She used an open class block to secure the experience.

“I fell in love with it,” she said—not only speaking of Safe Harbor Easton, but also its mission of supporting the homeless community, and more generally the nonprofit and human services sectors.

When Massaro is not writing grants or leading fundraising efforts for Safe Harbor Easton, she’s also teaching a life skills class for its residents. “At Safe Harbor, everyone on our staff—we all have something in our personal stories that makes us more efficient and better able to connect with our clients,” Massaro said.

Massaro elaborated: Almost all of the center’s support staff, at one time, have occupied the shelter as residents. All of its case managers have been through recovery from substance abuse or dependency. Several, she noted, have experienced incarceration. Massaro leans upon her personal experience, too, in providing an outlet for support and change with Safe Harbor’s residents.

“It’s very common for women who experience homelessness to have also been victimized. While I’ve never been homeless, I can connect with that experience,” said Massaro, a survivor of sexual assault. “I try to take one of the worst moments of my life and apply that constructively to help others through it.”

Massaro has introduced Safe Harbor’s residents to coping mechanisms that help with the after-effects of assault. These included yoga, guided meditation, and work in the center’s peace garden. She maintains an open-door policy at Safe Harbor. Residents have entered her office to talk, open up, or just ask for a hug.

“Empathy drives connection, and connection drives change,” Massaro said.

Massaro aspires to one day serve as the director of a nonprofit. Among her many titles, both current and aspirant, she can add another: scholarship recipient.

Massaro learned this summer that she had been chosen for a $10,000 award from WizeHive, a Philadelphia-based corporation providing nonprofit and other mission-based organizations with software that improves grant, scholarship, and giving processes. La Salle University is the pilot for WizeHive’s inaugural scholarship award, which went to a student pursuing a nonprofit career who also demonstrated interest, vision, and passion for the nonprofit sector.

“I see real-time results in how quickly I can take what I’m learning (at La Salle) and make this place function better, or make my staff perform better. That’s the most valuable attribute.”
—Sarah Massaro, M.S. ’22

“Impressive doesn’t do justice to Sarah; she is miles beyond that,” said Laura Otten, Ph.D., director of La Salle’s M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership program. “She knocks your socks off right out of the gate with her brain, communication skills, passion, determination, and drive, and then keeps on wowing you. Her passion for the work of Safe Harbor Easton and her abilities are evident in the rise from college intern to director of development in a short period of time and is testament to who she is and what she brings to the table. We too often say as a throwaway compliment that someone is ‘going places.’ With Sarah, however, this absolutely true. Whatever she wishes to achieve, she will. There could not be a better role model as the first recipient of the WizeHive scholarship, nor a better ambassador for La Salle’s Nonprofit Leadership graduate program.”

“When I got the call that I had been selected, it was big. I was overwhelmed,” Massaro said. “My classmates are incredibly talented and I knew the selection process for this scholarship would be competitive. I am honored to have been chosen and to represent La Salle in this way.”

And her enrollment in La Salle’s M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership is already rendering results, she said.

“Every class I’ve taken at La Salle, I’ve been able to come into my job and implement something that makes the organization stronger, makes me better, or both,” she said. “I see real-time results in how quickly I can take what I’m learning and make this place function better, or make my staff perform better. That’s the most valuable attribute.”

—Christopher A. Vito