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Washtenaw United: Samaritas offers help and support to the underserved in Washtenaw County and throughout Michigan

Samartias executive director Heidi Raubenolt
Samartias executive director Heidi Raubenolt


Heidi Raubenolt is a proud and experienced social worker with over 15 years of experience as a non-profit leader with a passion for serving children, families, and the communities they live in. Since 2021, she’s been serving as the Executive Director of Community Services at Samaritas—Michigan’s largest foster care and adoption organization with a full suite of family preservation programs.

As Executive Director of Community Services, Heidi provides leadership, management, administration, and strategic vision for the service line, including: Affordable Living, Services to Persons with Disabilities, Samaritas Family Center, and Samaritas House Heartline.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. Many of you have heard of the organization Samaritas, but do you know all that they do? It's a Detroit-based statewide organization working to serve some of those most in need among them senior citizens foster children and new Americans--those who've just immigrated to the area. I'm David Fair. And, as you know, a number of those people in need are right here in Washtenaw County. Samaritas is a faith-based organization that's been in operation for almost 90 years now. And joining us from the organization today is Heidi Raubenolt. She is the executive director and community services at Samaritans. And thank you for making time for us today.

Heidi Raubenolt: Thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: Has the manner in which you've had to go about your work--or just the focus of your work--changed since the onset of the pandemic?

Heidi Raubenolt: Yes, there's been a lot of changes. First and foremost, the way that we provided services and some of our programs had to change to keep people safe. And so many of our programs are face-to-face. We work with families and adults that are oftentimes in crisis. And adding on the pandemic crisis to that made that an even bigger challenge. So, really changing the way that we we get to people to be able to help them reach self-sufficiency.

David Fair: The nature of crisis did take an entirely different look when COVID hit and has continued to change the manner in which we all kind of live our lives. As part of the COVID relief efforts, your organization did get some one-time federal funding. How did you go about choosing how to allocate those resources?

Heidi Raubenolt: Yes. So, you know, there were so many needs, and there continues to be so many needs. One of the ways that we've utilized funding is to help improve housing situations for the families that we work with. I think the biggest barrier that I'm encountering in my position right now is the lack of affordable housing. One of the programs that we operate is at the Samaritas Family Center, a shelter for families who are experiencing homelessness in Wayne County. And we have been able to make some improvements to that program and that building because we've been seeing people who families who are staying with us longer because there's not affordable housing in the community that they can move to and that they can afford. ]

David Fair: You talk about meeting people where they are, and that is a part of how you focus how you're going to provide services. How do you go about prioritizing where the most need is?

Heidi Raubenolt: Yes, it's hard. There's so much need. You know, we do a lot of work at Samaritas. We serve families who have been impacted by trauma and children who have experienced abuse and neglect. We serve older adults, many in affordable housing, and we serve new Americans--folks who are coming to our country and helping them get settled in a brand new place. There's a lot of need. And we really try to focus on what we are successful at. We've been around for a very, very long time. Our mission is to serve others. And that's really where we try to find the holes in services. If there's something somebody's not doing something, can we do it? Can Samaritas do it successfully? Can we help to meet that need?

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United, and we're talking with Heidi Raubenolt. She is executive director at the faith-based service organization Samaritas. I've said that word a couple of times, that phrase: faith-based. I think there's opportunity for some to interpret that one way or another. And I have a different perception of what faith-based really means. How do you define it at Samaritas?

Heidi Raubenolt: Yes. So, our mission is serving others as Jesus Christ would. We are rooted in the Lutheran faith. That's where our organization started. But we are an organization that serves everyone and are really guided by the principle that we are here to serve others and improve our communities.

David Fair: Is it a more difficult mission in an increasingly secular world?

Heidi Raubenolt: I don't think so. I think that we've really tried to educate the public about, you know, we are an organization that serves everyone. We're not an organization that is going to, you know, force any beliefs on anyone or that type of thing. Yeah, I think that we've done a good job of really expressing that to the community and meeting people exactly where they're at.

David Fair: Serving everyone: that seems to be a growing refrain among all religious denominations. Does Samaritas work with other faith-based organizations, including those of different faiths?

Heidi Raubenolt: We do. Yes. We have a lot of partnerships across different faiths and different communities. You know, we really know that we can't do this work alone. We have to be working together collaborating. We can't do the work alone.

David Fair: So, the current generation of young adults are trending away from organized religion. It doesn't matter which faith we're talking about, but it's been going on for some time now and continues. As you look to the future, does it threaten the work of faith-based organizations like yours?

Heidi Raubenolt: No, our work continues. We are, you know, like I said, we were founded by the church, but we continue working in the community with everyone.

David Fair: Our conversation with Heidi Raubenolt from Samaritas continues on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. You've mentioned some of the services you provide here in Washtenaw County. Samaritas operates the senior living complex affordable living at Sequoia Place. You have invested in transitioning new Americans from Afghanistan as they relocate to the county. The organization also leads the state in foster care services, and some of that takes place right here in Washtenaw County. So, how do you establish priorities when you look at a particular given area and, in this case, Washtenaw County?

Heidi Raubenolt: Yes. So, you know, a lot of the work done in foster care is a big focus is to keep kids in the communities where they're at. When children come in to the foster care system, they're already experienced trauma and disruption. One of the things that we can do is keep them in their community, in their school, in their neighborhood, if possible. That's huge and can help minimize some of that trauma and ease the transition. So, one of our big focuses is to recruit families--foster families--and relative caregivers who are in the community, who will keep kids in the community and keep them connected.

David Fair: Social justice and diversifying and creating equitable service: that's at the heart of what you call the IDEA program. That's an acronym. What does the acronym stand for, and how is that being applied in what you do?

Heidi Raubenolt: Yes. So, IDEA is an acronym that we created to sum up the work that we're doing around inclusion and diversity. IDEA stands for inclusion, diversity, equity and action. And it's really important that we have the A--the action--in there because we can talk about things we want to be doing or should be doing all day long, but we need to take our knowledge, experience and our commitment and put that into action. So, you know, as an organization, we're learning like a lot of different organizations are. We're going through the journey together and trying to create a safe space for folks to learn and grow and help us serve our communities better and work best together as a team.

David Fair: So, taking that one step further, as we wind our time down together, as you assess the needs of today and apply those principles and how you create longer term strategic determinations, where are going to be the greatest areas of need to address in the decade to come?

Heidi Raubenolt: Oh, gosh. Well, I think there will be ongoing ramifications from the COVID pandemic. You know, we're seeing things already, and we're going to have to continue to keep abreast of that and how do we best meet the needs that continue to emerge. You know, housing, like I said earlier, is huge. We need to figure out a way to get everyone into affordable, safe housing, so they can have a basis for self-sufficiency and succeed in their futures.

David Fair: Well, Heidi, I'd like to thank you so much for taking time out to talk with us today. I'm grateful.

Heidi Raubenolt: Thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: That is Heidi Raubenolt. She is executive director, community services at Samaritas and our guest on Washtenaw United. For more information on the work Samaritas is doing in Washtenaw County and around the state, simply visit our website at WEMU dot org. And we'll get you all linked up. Washtenaw United is brought to you every Monday and is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.



Samaritas Events


From 2021-22, Samaritas teamed up with United Way of Washtenaw County as a Community Impact Partner, aiming to create services and provide supports that increase the economic wellbeing of Washtenaw County people.

During this time, Samaritas was a recipient of the COVID Recovery Fund, a one-time support to meet pandemic-related needs of ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained and Employed) households — those that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living — and those experiencing poverty in Washtenaw County.

Samaritas received $10,000 to provide wraparound supports (comprehensive supports that meet the basic needs of individuals and families) for Afghan refugees who relocated to Washtenaw County.

Samaritas Affordable Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Live the life you should be living at Affordable Living at Sequoia Place. Sometimes staying in your house means taking on responsibilities you don’t want any longer. Affordable Living at Sequoia Place, you’ll find a great community filled with like-minded people looking for a better way to live in their later years. Each of the 55 units is 540 square feet with one bedroom, a kitchen, living/dining area and a bathroom. You’ll always feel safe because the community has live surveillance security and your apartment comes equipped with two emergency call systems. Without all of the worries you had at home, you can relax and enjoy your new neighbors.

The Affordable Living at Sequoia Place Lifestyle

Some of the fun activities you can enjoy at Affordable Living at Sequoia Place include weekly coffee hour, exercise programs, puzzle table, monthly potlucks, holiday celebrations and a monthly birthday party. Our Community Room is home to a community kitchen, a big screen television and a Wii game system that will keep you and your new friends entertained and energized.

We also offer a variety of resident groups tailored to specific interests. The “Happy Gardeners” group is very active in the spring, summer and fall, planting, harvesting and maintaining the perennial and vegetable gardening area. Residents can also stay fit and healthy by participating in MSU Extension’s HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) program, which promotes healthy eating and supports weekly exercise classes. If you want to get out and about or need to schedule an appointment, we are on the AATA bus route, near two major hospitals and are close to many parks, stores, restaurants and cultural activities.

Don’t miss out on a great senior living in Ann Arbor. Call (734) 669-8840 today to schedule a tour of the community.

Samaritas Affordable Living in Monroe, Michigan

Affordable Living of Monroe is a residential community offering what every family wants: privacy and pleasant surroundings. Call for an appointment to check out our apartments and townhouses. We provide spacious family living with modern conveniences at the lowest possible rent.

Samaritas Affordable Living in Adrian, Michigan

Apartments and Townhouses

Affordable Living Adrian is a residential community offering what every family wants: privacy and pleasant surroundings. Call for an appointment to check out our apartments and townhouses. We provide spacious family living with modern conveniences at the lowest possible rent.

Family-friendly ♦ Pleasant ♦ Private ♦ And newly renovated!

Samaritas Affordable Living in Detroit, Michigan

Samaritas Affordable Living at Gateshead Crossing has never looked this good. This community offers the most modern amenities and conveniences. Each of the 45 private, one-bedroom apartments features granite countertops, oak cabinets, a full kitchen and individual air conditioners. Around the community you’ll find a variety of common spaces that are just as beautiful as your apartment. Residents can walk the path to the corner garden, where park benches provide a comfortable place to watch the neighborhood. Or you can choose to relax in the beautiful glass-enclosed sun patio. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll know you’re surrounded by a wonderful community of neighbors.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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