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Sylvia Barnard

Executive Director, Good Samaritan Shelter
Leading For Community Impact

Sylvia Barnard was a single mom living on welfare when she put herself through college. She
believed that education was her ticket out of poverty and when she graduated from UCSB it was
especially noteworthy because Sylvia did it all, unaware of the resources that could have helped
her. It is profound that now her life’s work is dedicated to providing services to others in need.
Upon graduation, Sylvia joined Good Samaritan Shelter as a grant writer. She then served as
interim executive director before being named executive director of the organization, where she
has worked for 25 years.

“I call it a God shot,” she said of finding her way to Good Samaritan. “I realized I had a passion
for providing service to those in need, especially to families with homeless children – those kids
did not ask for this life. Knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life is really important,
even if it’s just one person.” Good Samaritan works to end the cycle of homelessness and to
help some of the most vulnerable in our communities rebuild their lives.

When Sylvia started, Good Samaritan had one location with 28 beds. Today, the nonprofit
operates 40 different sites, offering more than 600 beds and serving 3,000 people each year. It
is the largest homeless shelter provider and drug and alcohol treatment center in the Tri-County
region. The mission of Good Samaritan Shelter is to provide emergency, transitional and
support services to the homeless and those in recovery throughout the Santa Maria Valley and
Central Coast.

It was during the pandemic that Good Samaritan doubled in size, expanding housing to the
South County, which includes DignityMoves, Hedges House of Hope in Isla Vista, Sobering
Center and Step-Down. It was also in the midst of the pandemic that Sylvia participated in
Leading From Within’s Leading For Community Impact (LCI) program.

Sylvia said she had put off participating for years because attending the South County trainings
would take too much time away from her work in Santa Maria. When Leading From Within
introduced the North County cohorts it was good timing for her.

“I really didn’t know what to expect and I felt pretty comfortable in my leadership style,” recalled
Sylvia. “Little did I know that I had so much to learn.”

“My greatest takeaway was understanding the importance of self-care, for myself but also for
my staff,” she said. “Leading during a pandemic is draining, especially for our organization
which was front and center while most of the world was isolating. It was important to take care
of staff because without staff there are no programs.”

Sylvia said she always wondered what would happen in a crisis and she was fortunate to be
engaged with Leading From Within when it struck. “Leading From Within provided
encouragement and comfort, reassuring our cohort that yes, you will continue to lead regardless
of circumstances, using the tools you have, in the best way you know how,” she said.
It was also valuable to be involved with LFW during covid, as it allowed Sylvia to share
resources and bounce ideas off others in the cohort.

Sylvia said it was so helpful to have a group of leaders to ask about how they were managing vaccinations, mask mandates and other critical decisions in this new uncharted territory. This network also extended to those
organizations that provided in-service. It was easy for Sylvia to call colleagues at the FoodBank
or public health department for instance, because they had recently presented to her cohort.

“The network and relationships that you are able to build at Leading From Within are incredibly
valuable,” she noted. “We work in partnership with many community and government agencies
so this additional point of connection is beneficial.”

“I believe so strongly in the program that I’ve committed to ensuring my staff participate as well,”
said Sylvia, who recently had two longtime staff graduate. “They got so much value out of LCI; it
allows you to access your leadership skills and understand yourself better, which ultimately
makes you a more effective leader.”


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