Sara Ray Stoelinga | CEO of Easter Seals of Chicagoland and Rockford

Posted by TFOCB Studios on Nov 21, 2022 5:59:41 PM

Meet Sara Ray Stoelinga, CEO at Easterseals serving Chicgaoland and Greater Rockford. Sara grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Education was the cornerstone of her upbringing, along with music, faith, and simple living. Her parents were good role models, instilling a sense of responsibility to use her talents to contribute goodness to the world.

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Though education was always part of her path, she didn’t have a clear trajectory. In her final year of college at UChicago, education came into focus. She was part of the neighborhood schools program where she tutored in public school. Being inside of Chicago schools was a wake up call as to how the segregated classrooms were.

A focus on and love for the kids have always been at the center of her work. She was the Expulsion Appeal Officer, where she was the person who heard the appeal as to whether or not a student was expelled. She never wanted to expel kids, as she saw gifted, smart kids in these positions. She asked herself, ‘How do we make schools that serve those kids?’

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Three years ago, she joined Easterseals as its CEO. The organization has two pillars - early learning and disability with a variety of programs in both. The organization does important work, such as funding schools that serve youth with autism or other disabilities. It also works with Head Start -  her company services 1900 young children - 0 to 3 years - in 40 different childhood centers. 

Sara was a turnaround CEO, coming into the company as it was facing a number of issues. “It was the hardest thing I've ever done professionally,” she says. Sara had to roll up her sleeves and restructure the company, always doing so with empathy and transparent decision making.

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“They need us because they have disabilities and need access to the broader world and access to services. They need us because Head Start serves low income families that are 150% below the poverty line. And here we were, we're all wrapped up in this operational organizational stuff, and I think that the hardest part for me was the human element.”

After all was said and done, she fell in love with the work and knows it fits right in with her skills and leadership style. She’s working to ensure the company can always stay afloat and continue to live out its mission.

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Tune in to hear more on Sara's story and how you can connect with or give back to Easter Seals.



Topics: CEO