By Sam Semerau
Accepting opportunities without a long-term plan can be a terrifying leap of faith. For Shiri Yadlin (ΦBK, Washington & Lee University), however, this has led her to incredible experiences and work in a field she is passionate about.
While a student at Washington & Lee, Yadlin became a part of the university’s Shepherd Poverty Studies Program. The program aims to enable students to understand the causes and effects of poverty and economic inequality in society. Students are able to engage in co-curricular and academic opportunities through the program, which is exactly what Yadlin did.
Through a summer internship with the Shepherd Program, Yadlin interned at N Street Village in Washington, D.C., a research center for homeless and low-income women. As she worked in the day drop-in center, Yadlin spent time directly with the women she was helping.
“There were often similar women coming in every day. I got to know them very well and got to know a lot about homeless service systems and the many, many complexities involved in homelessness,” said Yadlin.
The experience ignited a passion. Not only was Yadlin academically engaged in the topic of housing, but she was invested in her desire to help others. Following her internship, she finished her education at Washington & Lee and graduated in 2012 magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in religion and international politics. After graduation, Yadlin accepted the opportunity through a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to teach English to students in Purkersdorf, Austria.
When she returned to Washington, D.C., Yadlin worked as a service coordinator at Pathways to Housing. There, she engaged directly with people who have complex health challenges transitioning out of homlessness. This job showed Yadlin some of the hardships and triumphs of direct services.
“It was such a crash course in what works, what doesn’t work,” said Yadlin. “The many, many interlocking, overlapped layers of service network. It was an incredible experience both personally and professionally.”
After earning her master’s degree in public policy with a special emphasis on housing and homelessness from Georgetown University in 2017, Yadlin was invited by her church, the District Church, to join a group researching the church’s potential to get involved in housing. Through research and conversations with local government, non-profits, and other faith-based communities, it was realized churches in the area were interested in working to end homelessness, but didn’t know where to start.
In response, Yadlin helped spearhead Just Homes, an initiative to educate faith-based communities on how to address the affordable housing crisis. The initiative helps educate the communities through workshops and trainings on issues related to housing while also acting as a space for the communities to convene.
“We basically worked with other faith communities in the city to try to get involved in meeting housing needs,” said Yadlin. “That’s broad, but intentionally broad, recognizing that every house of worship is different and has different resources and sits in a different place. What one could offer could be different than what another can offer, but everyone can offer something.”
After five years with Just Homes, Yadlin sought new opportunities. She is currently a senior program manager at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, an organization that works with other organizations involved in supportive housing to provide coaching and resources.
“I love it because I know supportive housing really makes a difference in people’s lives. It’s totally transformed lives across the country, so seeing more supportive housing and getting more on the discussion of housing and homelessness is really important,” said Yadlin.
Last month, Yadlin was honored for her work during Washington & Lee’s Young Alumni Weekend. She received the 2022 Distinguished Young Alumni Award along with fellow Phi Beta Kappa graduate, John Grigsby. The award felt special to Yadlin because it highlighted her work in social impact, a field she could not always find exemplified as a student.
“There weren’t always a lot of examples of that at Washington & Lee,” said Yadlin. “If you wanted to be a lawyer, you wanted to be a teacher . . . plenty of examples of that, but not necessarily folks who are social workers or are otherwise in social impact. I think the university has done an excellent job of really trying to highlight those alumni.”
While Yadlin’s career path might feel like a naturally progressing roadmap looking back, she admits she did not have this planned all along. Instead, Yadlin was accepting opportunities as they came to her. This is something she believes can lead to incredible new experiences.
“When we’re in college or even any time in our careers, we often think that everyone else has it figured out and I have no idea what I’m doing, but everyone feels that way,” said Yadlin. “Having a plan is great, but taking opportunities as they come, like taking that year to go to Austria did not fit in this road map, but it was an incredible experience. I learned so much and I’m grateful I did that, but I don’t know I would have done that had I been trying to follow some pre-described plan.”
In addition to her work at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Yadlin contributes to Washington & Lee University as a member of the Shepherd Poverty Advisory Board. Yadlin sees the value of her time as a Phi Beta Kappa member in the way that shared experiences can lead to different resolutions.
“It’s cool to see people doing so many different things with that uniting center. That can manifest in so many different ways,” said Yadlin.
Sam Semerau is a recent graduate of Albion College with a degree in English and history. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in April 2022. Albion College is home to the Beta of Michigan chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.