Northeast Michigan 211 supports 23 counties and over 1 million people. Their focus is to help those in need find the resources they need to take care of their families. Sarah Kile and her staff at Northeast Michigan 211 help support those people.
North East Michigan 211 Website Here.
Cliff Duvernois (00:04):
Hello everyone and welcome to the call of leadership podcasts. We’re going to listen to powerful stories and advice from those that are Michigan community who answered the call of leadership. I am your host cliff do then wall and today my guest is the executive director of the two one one Northeast Michigan program where she served over 1 million people in 23 counties. She’s also our proud advocate in areas of public health education and activism where her work was recognized by the Michigan health policy champion award. She is a trainer for the bridges out of poverty program where she was described as a speaker who captivates her audience. She’s on the board of the mid Michigan’s big brother, big sister program. She’s also on the city council for Gladwin. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the show. Sarah Kyle. Sarah, how are you?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211
Oh, cliff, I’m great. I’m doing wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you. I could have read your bio, I think for another three or four minutes, so thank you for everything that you do for the community. Oh, you’re welcome and thank you for not doing that. Thank you. Oh great.
Why don’t you, why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from. Where did you grow up?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (01:16):
So I grew up in Beaverton, Beaverton, Michigan. I stayed there most of my life until I after college. And then I moved to Midland for a short time to do some work there and then moved to Gladwin and absolutely passionately in love with my community and the the city and County of Gladwin, which is where I am now. And hopefully if God is willing, I will stay here. Serving for as long as I live
Cliff Duvernois (01:45):
In a serving is a, an interesting word and I definitely want to delve into that a little bit more. You w you went to central Michigan and you studied psychology there. Why did you, why did you choose psychology?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (01:57):
That’s a funny story. So I wanted to go into, this may sound a little out there. I wanted to go into sex therapy. I wanted to go into counseling and really work with women who had been sexually assaulted and abused. It was like this when I was younger, I felt like how could someone more take a piece of you or damage a piece of you than your, their own sexuality, your own body. And I wanted to, to really work with women. I wanted to be a counselor and that was the goal. And as soon as I graduated CMU, I started a master’s program and then also started volunteering for a sexual assault response team where I was called to the hospital when there was a sexual assault to be an advocate. And I realized that I am way too sensitive to handle what was happening.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (02:54):
So the team that I was, I was volunteering for through the training. I’m like a black and white thinker. I’m like, how many times did we get called when we’re on call for a weekend, you know, I need to know, I need to plan, I need to. And they’re like, the likelihood is you’ll never get a call. The likelihood is you’ll never, you know, maybe one call a weekend at the most. And the first weekend I was on call, I got four calls and it was overwhelming. And only funny in the fact that it was like a higher power saying this is not the plan fit. This is not the plan for you. You may have an idea that this is what you want, but this is not what you’re created for. I didn’t have the heart for it. It wasn’t a true calling. I just, I just wanted to help folks.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (03:41):
And because of that background I had a concentration and a human sexuality. So it led me into teaching sex ed from an abstinence perspective, which I absolutely fell in love with. I fell in love with going with young people and you know, public health and looking at the community from a larger perspective and trying to say, how do we make this place better? How do we protect our youth? How do we, you know, encourage our youth to protect themselves. Yeah, I just, it was not the plans I had when I was 18 1920 but I am glad that, you know, my life kinda took a different course.
Cliff Duvernois (04:22):
And I, and I know you kind of talked about this before, you’ve been very active in helping people as far back as I can research and I know in college that you did some, you know you did some work there and it’s just been a part of the, the fabric of what it is that you do. And I know you mentioned this briefly about, about working in, in health and health advocacy. At what, what started you down that path?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (04:46):
Part of it is, you know, I was raised in a family where giving back to community, it was this part of your, you know, our DNA and I have a pastor as a father, please don’t laugh at me that I’m a pastor’s kid. Cause I know I’ve heard all the jokes. But it started out with just helping people and every time I had a career change the, when the lens got larger, right. So I went from, you know, very specific issues of you know, sex education to, I went into teaching, you know, young people about alcohol and other drugs and that turned into a community focus where we were trying to get the community to offer our better incentives for young people to not take part in drugs and alcohol. And then that work because of, so there’s County health rankings and they came out I believe 2010 and the communities that I was serving or the lowest ranked in Michigan were very unhealthy and almost every piece of the unhealth really had something to do with, you know, substance abuse or it was something I could work on.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (05:55):
It was something I could could jump. So I was hired by our health department to work on health advocacy from there to two one one where I’ve been saying for years we are in public health and people are starting to hear that and they’re starting to listen that it’s called social determines of health. If you can’t get your electric bill paid, you are not going to be focused on, you know, your wellness checks. And, you know, we’re, we’re a piece of the picture. There’s, it’s a big puzzle, but really it’s about serving people on a broader and broader scale. And at two one, one, that’s what I get to do. I get to serve, you know, over a million people in 23 counties and I do take it seriously than it. I, I believe we are in public health. We were advocating just as much for public health as, you know, our local physicians and health departments.
Cliff Duvernois (06:46):
And you’re, you know, when you’re talking about people paying the, you know, are having trouble paying the electric bill and stuff like that. Is this, is this kind of what, what led you to first off the bridges of poverty program and second off for an audience that may not know could you talk about the bridges of poverty program?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (07:04):
It was an opportunity. It’s, I really do believe in like a divine, you know, I believe in God. I believe that, you know, the things that we do are, are really set in stone, you know, maybe before we even know. But it was an opportunity that fell in my lap. I was on a community work group and someone was going to go and get this training and they had to back out. And I was like, I talked to my boss and because it fit in with what I was doing, they’re like, Oh, go get this training. So bridges out of poverty is a way to look at generational poverty, like a cultural competency. So we, we do not see people as problems to be fixed. And that’s a big issue to me. Like people are not problems. And when we start looking at people, Oh we need to fix poverty, you know, people in poverty need to do this, that and the other thing, it’s very demeaning.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (07:57):
It is not respectful and bridges out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a cultural competency. It is understanding that generational poverty is often a completely different culture and we don’t jump into other cultures and start fixing them and telling them how they need to be more like, you know, the mainstream culture or the accepted culture. Instead we say, you know, if we’re going to serve you, how do we serve you best? And that’s what bridges out of poverty is all about. And you know, I just fell in love with that because you know a huge portion of the folks that live in our communities and the folks that you know, many of us in health and human service work with, they are struggling with generational poverty, which you see the world differently. I was raised in a blue collar middle class family, so I never felt uncomfortable going into a bank.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (08:48):
That’s where we went to deposit the $10 check we got from grandma every birthday and Christmas. But folks who maybe didn’t have that same experience, why do we expect that they’re going to feel comfortable the same way I feel comfortable with a bank account and to cast my judgment on someone else because they didn’t have the same upbringing than I do is it’s disrespectful and I see that all the time. Like how do we, I hear it from politicians, I hear it from social services. How do we fix poverty? Well, are we talking about poverty? Because really it sounds like you’re saying you want to fix people, people are not problems. And that’s what I love about bridges and I’ve been a trainer now for quite awhile. I think I was dubbed three years ago, a lifetime certified trainer. I’ve done it all over the state and it’s just something I still fall in love with. And it’s, it bridges out of poverty is a book by Ruby Payne and Phil Deval. Anyone can pick it up. It’s, it’s a great book because it really, it respects human beings and I think that’s what we need to do in every aspect of our life.
Cliff Duvernois (09:52):
You know? And it’s interesting that it’s the, the, the term being used is generational poverty because I think for a lot of people out there that it’s, it’s very cyclic. Kids will repeat the patterns of their parents. Know a lot of the times the D the, the decisions that people are making may not be the best decisions. They may not know any different, but their kids pick up on that and they run with it. So as this kind of like what you’re talking about,
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (10:18):
It’s exactly what I’m talking about. So I often in my training, use the example. You don’t shame me for being in middle class and not leaving middle-class and I could become a millionaire if I just put my nose to the grindstone and beans and rice every night and lived in a smaller house and drove a different car. You know, I could save up my money, I could do, but this is the lifestyle I know. But we shame folks who are in poverty because we feel that it’s okay to shame someone, you know, it’s about what you know. And if someone decides even after, although working in the world with them, if they don’t want to leave poverty, that’s not your choice to make. That’s their choice. And you know, again, it goes back to relationship and respect and that’s what we need to focus on and therefore serving people. And we’re not focusing on relationship and respect. I don’t know why we would be in this field.
Cliff Duvernois (11:11):
And I think you and I could talk about this for a while cause I’m, I’m definitely passionate about finance, but I, I do got to ask you, you’ve had this career where you’ve really been, you know, supporting people and reaching out to people and working with them and ad advocacy. And then it seems like you, you took a little bit of a turn and became a radio DJ. What prompted you to do that?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (11:35):
I was sitting in a a PAC meeting, a political action committee meeting. I had been sitting with someone who said, you have a great voice for radio. And I’m like, whatever, you know, well, if you ever think about radio, please come and talk to me. I’m like, ah, that’s not going to happen. And we, we said it a few more meetings and I was like, why not? I mean, I don’t know it again, you know, there’s a path, there’s a plan. I said, yes, I tried it. It was so much fun. And it’s, it is a weird, it was this great radio station out. I’m glad when and I learned so much about how to communicate better, how to think before I speak, how to talk with a smile and people can hear a smile and it, again, it is, it is a one off, but it was so much fun and I got to be there for a few years and then when I became the executive director at two one one I just simply just didn’t have the time to continue it, but I still, yeah, I still, they still have some of my ads that run and I, it’s, it’s, it’s awesome.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (12:47):
I mean, I know it, it’s trippy to hear yourself on the radio and even though it was on the radio for a few years, it’s still like, Whoa, that’s my voice.
Cliff Duvernois (12:55):
Yeah, I know what you mean. I was in long beach. It was probably about a year and a half ago. I lived in California for about 20 years and about a year ago, year and a half ago, through a weird confluence of events, I started chatting with this guy and he said to me, you have a million dollar voice. And I looked at him and I said, excuse me. And he goes, you’ve got a million dollar voice. He says, you need to be on the radio. And I never thought of myself as having the radio voice. And he and I started talking and finally I had to ask him, I’m like, you know, who are you? And he says, are you familiar with 89.1 jazz? And I’m like, yeah, that’s on my car all the time. And then I instantly knew who he was. He was the DJ in the afternoon who ran the jazz. I listened to jazz like all the time.
Cliff Duvernois (13:40):
And also that I couldn’t believe when I was sitting here talking to this, you know, talking to this jazz D DJ and he’s like, you know, he says, I never do this, but I’m going to give you my card. And when you move back to Michigan, I want you to reach out to me and tell me that you’re, you know, we’re working in broadcasting again. So once this pod gets, gets pushed out, true to my word, I’m going to reach back out to him again. But you know, it’s funny how people just look at you and be like, nah, you should be on radio. It’s like really,
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (14:07):
You know, you don’t think about your voice and you know, if it’s not something you’ve ever thought of before, it’s a compliment. And you know, there was even after I had left the radio, there were folks, advertisers who’d call and say, well we want Sarah’s voice. And I’m like, well that’s awesome. It hasn’t happened a couple of years, but it’s still, it, it’s something you don’t think about.
Cliff Duvernois (14:29):
I always thought I sounded like Charlie Brown when I was recorded. So there you go. You were working as a DJ and you were offered the position as executive director at two one, one you decided to take it. Why, why did you, why did you go that route?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (14:45):
So the path was weird. I was on the board for two, one, one for a few years from 2009 through the end of 2013. And my job at the time, they would just wouldn’t let me, you know, take the time to be on the board anymore. They had other things they wanted me to focus on, so I had to resign. And a couple months later the executive director resigned from two one one and they contacted me and asked me to apply and I thought they were just trying to be nice, like they needed a bigger application pool. I get it. That’s cool. So I went and I applied and I went through the interview and you know, I had sat on the board with these folks so I wasn’t nervous at all. I told them the truth was if they could find someone who loves to one, one more than me, then hire them because two, one, one, no matter where I went, you know, I had two different jobs at the time.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (15:41):
It was my passion, like one place where everyone can go. Like it made my job easier at, at other places because I didn’t have to try to remember or while you need what? Well, what agency provide, you know, I didn’t have to do that. I could say here, just two, one one and there are no qualifications to call us. Like you have to be under a certain income or you have to have this, you know, debilitation or you have to, anyone can, can take part. So I was always really passionate about it and actually cause because of today, it’s been six years since I was offered the job, it was April 1st and I got the call from the board president and I’m like, Oh, come on Tom, let’s be real. I’m sure you guys find someone a lot better than me. And he’s like, no, we want you, we want, we want you to take the job.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (16:27):
And I was like, whatever. April fool’s you think you’re pulling, this is not funny, man. And he said, Sarah, there was not one person we could have interviewed who has the passion that you have. And I accepted the job and that has been really, I would hate to say this, but the truth is, it’s been a dream ever since, even on hard days. It’s, it’s a pleasure to serve [inaudible] we do good work and I’m proud of it. I bet. And for some of the people that are in the audience and may not know what two one, one is, could you tell us what the, what that program is? What the businesses, yeah. Oh, I could do this all day two, one, one. I know it’s a three digit number you call to find help in your community. So you dial nine one one for emergency, but for crisis, you don’t know how to pay your electric bill.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (17:15):
You don’t know where the local food pantry is. You dial two one one. So what it does is it gives folks the opportunity to not have to figure it on their own. They will, we’ll connect folks to local resources that are available. We’re the roadmap to get help. So sometimes it can be confusing because we were not the check writers, we’re not, but we’re the folks who get to hold your hand down the road. And unfortunately we have to say sometimes, I’m sorry there’s nothing out there because you know we have communities that are struggling, which means the nonprofit world is struggling and with lower donations to our United ways and to our nonprofits. Folks are struggling. But I can be guaranteed because I know my staff well. I know my team that at least you got someone who was compassionate, who listened to you, who respected you.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (18:09):
And even if we have to say, I’m sorry, there’s nothing in your community for this need. Is there something else I can find for you? You know, is there more that we can do for you and we’re available 24 seven we’re free. We’re confidential. So it also takes that burden of I don’t, I don’t, I don’t want to call someone and ask for help because I’ve never done that before. Where, where are your answer? Because we’re not going to judge you and we’re going to help you with whatever we can and even navigate you if we need to. And not just give you the referral, but sometimes, man, you seem pretty upset. Can I? Let me make that transfer for you. Let me call that agency for you and get you on the phone with them. So it’s just, it’s an all around amazing service.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (18:55):
And in times like this, when we’re living in crises, we’re also crisis response. So don’t dial nine one one to find toilet paper. Don’t dial nine one one to find out if there’s a road closed because of a flood. You know, we want to make sure that folks have a place to go that’s safe and reliable and there all the time for them. And that’s who we are. And that’s what two one one does. So how could you not be proud of an agency like that? How could you not be excited that, you know, again, we may have to say, I’m sorry that services and available in your area, but at least we treated you respectfully. At least we listened and we were there to help if we could.
Cliff Duvernois (19:36):
And I would assume that because you’re, you’re, you know, two, one, one really is about assisting people at the time of this recording. We’re basically in the middle of this coven 19 lockdown thing. Are you guys just super swamped right now?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (19:52):
Yes. So because you know, you don’t know what you need until you need it. And folks who’ve never had to ask for help with the high unemployment rate, folks don’t know where to go. They’ve never had to ask for help. They are leaning to us, which is great. We have a reinvigoration invigoration, excuse me, in our communities of, you know, Hey, we always knew to one woman’s there, but now we want to remind people, because again, we don’t want them dialing nine one one if they just need toilet paper, we don’t want them dialing nine one one if they just need to know if the local food pantry is still open, they can just send folks to two one, one. So yeah, in cases of disaster and crisis are, our phone lines are, are busier, but it’s a responsibility that we take seriously. So we still do our best to make sure folks are treated well respectfully and given the time they need. If they call us,
Cliff Duvernois (20:50):
That’s absolutely wonderful. And, and I know that you’ve done a lot of work, so my, my next question might be a little bit hard for you to pin down. But, but is there a time, you know, that, that you ever thought to yourself, and like I said, I know you’ve serviced a lot of people, but is there a time that you ever really impacted somebody or thought to yourself, wow, I’m really making a difference.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (21:15):
Can I, I’m going to be really honest and say I don’t do that enough where I look behind me and say, look what I’ve done. And maybe that’s not good self care and that’s not good, you know, positive positivity talk or whatever. I don’t, I don’t know, maybe I’m not good at that. And because I always see the next thing, like what more can we do? What more can I do? What more can I offer my community? What more, how more can I serve the folks that we, that we have to answer to. You know, there’s a lot of times where I see the failures and they pushed me even further. But I think it is, it is definitely a shortcoming that I have seen in my life before that I forget to sometimes look at those really cool things that we’ve gotten to do. I know that’s not probably what I should say. I should have like a canned answer like, well, in 2000 in this we, you know, I don’t have that and I probably should. I’m proud every day that we serve, but I don’t have that pinnacle. Instead, I’m always looking forward and saying, what more can we do? What more can I do? How can we serve more people?
Cliff Duvernois (22:28):
I think if I could give out awards for best answer, you would get one, right? Yeah.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (22:32):
Well, but it’s also not that, it’s not always the healthiest answer, right? Because especially times like this where I can’t, you know, I can’t get off this call or this zoom or this process because, or I can’t say no and say, you know what? I need to have a life too. So I’m not going to answer emails until I crash and I’m not going to wake up and answer emails before I, you know, get my coffee or brush my teeth. That’s not always the healthiest thing. But I do know it is something that, again, it pushes me further to say so I don’t mean to be a downer, but I am single and I don’t have kids. So I kind of look at the world a little differently. I don’t have another generation coming behind me who I can leave a legacy with. Right. My legacy and I take it very seriously, is my lifetime.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (23:25):
I have just the time I have on this planet to make my Mark. Like I, I can’t also hope that my kids will make a Mark or I have one lifetime and I’m going to do everything in my power to make that Mark. And I take it seriously. Cause again, I don’t, I don’t have a or two generations or three generations to think, well, you know, I’ll leave a Mark here and then they’ll leave som and I get to take some credit for that. I just have this lifetime. And I think about that all the time. Like, how can I make sure that when I leave this planet, it better be a nicer place, a better be a place that serves people more better, be a place that’s nicer, cleaner, you know, those things. Again, I know that sounds pretty down, but I take that as a, it’s a motivation.
Cliff Duvernois (24:13):
No, I don’t, I don’t think that is a downer at all. I think it’s very admirable that somebody, you know, believes strongly in that they want to leave the world in a better place than they found it.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (24:23):
Well, isn’t that, I hope that’s what we all do. But I just, you know, it’s, it’s heightened because I, you know, I, I can’t teach my kids to, you know, pick up trash on the road when they’re getting their mail because I’m not gonna have them. So I, I have to pick up all the trash I see when I go get my mail because that’s my responsibility. And I better make this place an awesome, an awesome planet that I leave.
Cliff Duvernois (24:47):
Yeah. And no doubt all of your work and all the different advocacy that you have done serving on this, the city council. And I know you you have done a stint or you’re doing a stint on the school board.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (25:02):
Yeah. Yup. That’s a regional school board. Yep.
Cliff Duvernois (25:04):
Yeah. It’s, it’s just absolutely amazing everything that you’re doing. And, and I know that there are a lot of people out there in the community that are grateful for, you know, the two one, one service and all the work that you guys are doing, especially in a climate like now.
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (25:17):
Yeah. I hope so. I really hope, again, that folks know that we are right now the DNA of two one, one is to be here for you. So our tagline has been no matter what, no matter one, excuse me, no matter what, no matter when two one, one is there because we take it seriously, we’re here for you call us, you know there’s not a wrong, we get some weird calls but we handle them with grace and we might have to correct people sometimes like, Oh I’m so sorry. I actually don’t know if your local grocery store has stocked up on bread yet, but you know, would you like some information on your food pantry to see if they have breads? So yeah, it’s, it is pretty cool to be able to serve in that way.
Cliff Duvernois (25:58):
For our audience members who may want to connect with you or follow what you’re doing online or anything, what would be, what would be the best way for them to do that?
Sarah Kile, North East Michigan 211 (26:07):
So I’m pretty old school. I’m pretty much on Facebook. I do have a website, a Sarah kyle.com I’m not as, you know, as much as I like to serve. I don’t like to try to promote myself. So it’s not like I’m on there changing things. But look me up on Facebook. So facebook.com/sarah Kyle, and if especially if you’re in Michigan, I’m going to accept your friend request. If you have lots of friends in common, I’m going to accept it. And even if you just want to send me a message and you know, ask me about bridges out of poverty or two on one or you know, being a city council person, I love encouraging people to run for public office. It’s so, such a huge passion of mine because we make big changes locally and those things are important. So I’d love to, to connect with folks in any way possible, but Facebook is probably the best way to get me publicly. Awesome. And for our audience, we’ll make sure to have those links in the show notes down below. Sarah, it’s been a real treat having you on the podcast today. Thank you for carving time out for us. Cliff. I could not be more thrilled. And I am just grateful that you reached out and I hope that your audience, you know, they learn so much about leadership cause I can’t wait to listen to your podcasts.
Cliff Duvernois: Excellent. Thanks Sarah. Talk to you soon.