On any given night, there are roughly a thousand homeless people in Richmond, with about a quarter of them veterans. That number has stabilized in the last few years, in part because of committed people such as Susan Sekerke.
Sekerke started in the corporate world of advertising and marketing, but didn't feel satisfied. She wanted to give back more — after all, the state had helped her.
As a rising senior studying dance at Virginia Commonwealth University, she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and abruptly changed majors, setting her back two years. She received financial assistance from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services to help finish her degree in public relations. "Having the state make that investment in me really changed my life course," she says.
For the past 10 years Sekerke has worked at nonprofits the Daily Planet, which offers integrated health care to the homeless, and Freedom House, the shelter and food provider. As director of development there she increased numbers across the board: volunteers, annual fund giving, and participation in the 43rd Street Festival.
Back at the Daily Planet as its advancement coordinator, she continues to use her marketing skills to raise awareness and boil down the issue of homelessness so people see that it can happen to anybody. "In many cases, the underlying issue is a health care or behavioral-health problem," Sekerke says. "Until we stabilize that, they can only live independently for so long."
In her free time, Sekerke began a volunteer arts and crafts project with Safe Haven residents, making decorative votive candleholders to sell. She recently joined the board of Giving Change, which is busy raising $5 a month subscriptions. People vote monthly at house parties on where their donations go. "It is a fun way to get a lot of people to collectively make a huge difference for nonprofits," she says.