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Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Lane-Hill - "Everyone Has Something They Can Give"

When Sarah Lane-Hill first learned about Covenant House Illinois, she was intrigued — but not entirely sure how she might apply her expertise in the specialized field of architecture to our mission. After her first Sleep Out, followed by two years, now, of contributing from her professional knowledge base, Sarah has no doubts.

Sarah Lane Hill at Covenant House Illinois

“Everyone has something they can give,” she affirms. With her particular skills, she says she has found, “I can help create a welcoming space, a safe haven. I can use my architecture skills to give young people shelter and to show them they are loved.”

Our staff at Covenant House Illinois (CHIL) call Sarah a hero because of all the support she has provided and continues to provide, to our multiphase expansion on Lake Street in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, where CHIL is located.

When the final phase of our renovation project is complete, we will be able to serve many more young people facing homelessness with our upgraded drop-in center and a total of 60 short-term residential and transitional living beds, up from 12 when we opened our doors in Chicago five years ago.

Sarah became a part of our community after she learned about CHIL from her friend and former neighbor, Mark Hennessy, who chairs CHIL’s board of directors. “If Mark hadn’t spoken to me about Covenant House, I wouldn’t know. There’s a ripple effect from each person’s commitment.”

The more she learned about the youth homelessness crisis, the more Sarah felt a rising commitment of her own to support Covenant House and the young people we reach with life-affirming programs, trauma-informed care, unconditional love, and absolute respect.

“I can’t imagine being a young adult facing homelessness. I’ll do anything to give them a safe haven, a home, and hope,” Sarah says. “When you give your support, your skills, and talents to these young people, you see the joy in their eyes — even with masks on!”

Sarah’s experience as an architect has proven invaluable in the development of our new space, says Johnpaul Higgins, CHIL’s development director. “She readily shared her expertise, helping us draft floor plans, creating schematics, and recommending real-time, cost-effective solutions to issues we encountered along the way,” he says. “She has been a thought partner in helping us understand how office designs inform optimal use efficiency.”

Sarah knew how to maximize limited space to create a youth clothing closet, where young people enter with dignity to select clothes and shoes they need for school and work. She also helped CHIL make selections from donated furniture, based on aesthetic consistency, space constraints, and durability.

When Allstate Insurance closed its suburban Chicago headquarters during the pandemic and offered CHIL lightly used and new furniture,

Sarah helped select the pieces. “I was like a kid in a candy store! We picked out lovely pieces for offices and community spaces,” she says, underscoring Allstate’s generosity.

“Covenant House’s mission is such a critical one,” Sarah says. “There is tremendous need in Chicago, and Covenant House is filling that void. All kinds of people come together to make this a success. Lake Street is not an island; it’s a community.”

Being involved with Covenant House “makes a difference,” Sarah adds.

“It makes a difference in your life because it makes a difference in someone else’s life. I have received more than I have given, by trying to make, and hopefully making, a difference in someone else’s life. And I’ve learned from the youth and staff at Covenant House Illinois that there is always room for joy, always room for hope, always room for growth and learning.”

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