Girls on the Grid Profile: Beth Southorn of LifeSTEPS
By the Editors
As executive director of LifeSTEPS, Beth Southorn provides social services to individuals who are earning low wages and living in affordable housing. In Sacramento and around the state, Beth is on the front lines of empowering people who are underprivileged.
She has grown the organization into one of the state’s premier social services organizations. Under her leadership, Beth Southorn expanded their budget from $150,000 to $6.5 million. She directs the distribution of these resources to more than 250 affordable income communities, where more than 80,000 individuals receive access to education programs, financial literacy training, and emergency assistance.
We “sat down” with Beth to talk about life in Sacramento, being a successful executive, and building a stronger California.
Girls on the Grid: What is your day job and how did you get to where you are today?
Beth Southorn: We provide supportive social services to affordable housing residents throughout California. I’ve been committed to preventing homelessness my entire career. When I was 21 I was working in my first temporary homeless shelter looking at the sadness of the lives of the people there. I knew then that something was very wrong and felt that I needed to do something in a small way to help. Later, as I ran an emergency homeless shelter in San Mateo, I had far too many three year olds in my office traumatized by homelessness. Frankly, I could see that once eviction happens…it was too late to prevent the injury. Working at LifeSTEPS allows us to catch people before they fall and we’re able to prevent the damage of what destabilization does to the family. We have a clear mission to help the working poor help themselves. This model has proven to be very effective since we’ve been here, about 80% of the referrals we receive has led to housing stability.
GOTG: What should we know about helping the poor of Sacramento?
Beth: The poor share the same dreams and hopes that all of us have. The difference is that they are overwhelmed and consumed by survival. Our clients often work two or three jobs just to pay rent and meet basic living obligations. They suffer from a lack of time, money and opportunity.
Many of these men and women are working jobs on the grid. They’ll commute to their jobs from the housing communities in Natomas and our other suburbs where we run our programs.
GOTG: What’s a common misconception about low-income individuals and families?
Beth: A very common misconception is that all they live for is to receive public assistance. They don’t. They want opportunities to improve their lives and be economically self-sufficient. They want better lives for themselves, and most certainly want better lives for their children.
GOTG: What’s your favorite Sacramento success story?
Beth: There are so many! One of my favorites, though, is about a single mother with two children. She had lost her job, and the father of her children couldn’t make timely support payments. This young woman utilized a variety of educational programs we offer – including our signature financial literacy course and our employment services – and landed a terrific new job. Her children also attended our after school programs and began to flourish. She literally went from being on the edge of homelessness to transforming her life and the lives of her kids.
GOTG: How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Beth: It’s not always easy! I am a very spiritual person, so I make sure I take time daily to pray and meditate. I also take time every year to take retreats that help me to refresh and re-energize. I have a very supportive partner, and wonderful children – so time with family is a big factor in balancing the demands of my job with my personal life.
GOTG: What’s your secret to success?
Beth: Doing what you’re called to do, doing what you love. I find great personal satisfaction and fulfillment as a leader and supporting the amazing work of our staff members. LifeSTEPS’ success is built upon the commitment of our entire statewide team. When we realize how small we are, others can become bigger. Watching people discover what calls them, and being allowed to provide them a real opportunity to follow their heart, equates to all of us serving the residents and LifeSTEPS to completion. I’m also not afraid to fail, this allows us to listen to why systems don’t always work and to try to do things outside of the box. Frankly, when we fail we learn, and then we do get it right. When this happens, the joy each of us feels for successfully breaking the cycle of poverty creates the energy and enthusiasm to try something new once we stabilize the first success.
GOTG: What would you tell your 30 year old self?
Beth: Be easy on yourself, forgive yourself for mistakes and learn from them. Be committed to what you’re doing and always lead from your values. All of us have an inner voice that tells us what is right and what is wrong, following what is right even when it seems impossible is the only way I’ve ever seen success.
GOTG: What’s your favorite thing about living in Sacramento?
Beth: We’re so blessed in Sacramento because we have such easy access to nature, recreational activities, and a more comfortable and relaxed quality of life. I’ve developed many wonderful friendships here, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Though I miss seeing my mom and sister in the Bay Area weekly, the serenity I feel here makes this the right place for me to live.
GOTG: When you’re not saving the world, what do you do for fun?
Beth: Lol. It would just be nice knowing I was making a dent in helping others! I enjoy time with my family. I love the outdoors. I enjoy hiking and spending time in nature. I also love animals, especially my schnauzer, Calliente.