What Sarah’s Story Looks Like | Interview

What a JOY and honor to be able to interview the founder of the Real Life Center of Richmond, Virginia, Dr. Sarah Scarbrough and get HER take on what it’s like to work with people who have been in homeless conditions and/or other challenging life situations including incarceration, addiction or both. The Real Life Center recently celebrated it’s one year anniversary and within that time they served DOUBLE of the amount of people they anticipated – topping 400 people who were helped free of charge to be able to acquire the tools and skills to move forward toward new beginnings and a sustainable lifestyle. The work that is being done is immeasurable but if you want to check out the end of the year report, here’s a link to follow!: Real Life Report 2018

Dr. Scarbrough was also not surprisingly named a Richmond Times Dispatch 2018 Person of the Year Honoree for all of her good work 🙂

Let’s get to talking with Dr. Sarah Scarbrough and see what she had to say about homelessness, incarceration, addiction, her nonprofit and how she handles all of this as a working mom and wife!

Name: Dr. Sarah Scarbrough

Born in: Northern VA but Richmond, VA is home

Dr. Scarbrough spent ten years working in Richmond jail, the latter five as the program director and that’s what Real Life Center was birthed out of.

Click here to visit the website for the REAL LIFE CENTER and also check them out on Facebook! They have a wonderful presence and inspirational posts!

I asked Sarah if she just saw a general need for what the Real Life Center would do for people getting out of prison or if it was one event that gave her the idea for it – and she told me the story of a man named Carlos.

Carlos was getting out of jail and they had managed to get him so many of the things he would need to start his new life. Everyone was so excited for him! He had a lease signed and ready to go, he had silverware, furniture donated, EVERYTHING…except toilet paper. And guess what? When you’re out of jail and you don’t yet have any money, you can’t just go buy a roll of toilet paper at the Dollar Tree for a dollar…because you don’t yet have that dollar. There is a need for a better and more realistic transition for these people.

When I asked Sarah who they worked with at the Real Life Center, she told me “We will work with anyone in an adverse situation that’s willing and wanting to change and willing to go through our process. The biggest thing that our clients face is incarceration, substance use disorder and/or homelessness and frankly most of our folks have all three of those things that they’ve experienced in the past.”

They are honest about housing and managing expectations and the goal is to immediately develop a plan and then they begin to move through a screening process.

Want to hear something heartbreaking Dr. Scarbrough mentioned? Some of their clients are happier homeless. We talked about a woman who sleeps outside of their place every single night who feels safer being homeless because she was sexually assaulted in her homes growing up by the men in her life.

Dr. Sarah Scarbrough is also a mom who adores her family and when I asked her how it was to balance a job that can be so emotionally heavy and taxing, she mentioned this:

Sarah talked about the emotional challenges that come with the job and how separating work and life can be tough. She’ll hear about a mother who is homeless with her kids on the streets and knowing she gets to come home and be with her kids, it can be so hard.

The other effect that is there… is when people don’t make it. “They don’t see in themselves what we see in them.”

“We can’t save anybody, we just provide the tools and hope that they use them and hope that the seeds were planted, even if it’s years down the road.”

We started to talk about what it’s like when people work through the program and succeed. One of the things I LOVE about Real Life is that they are enthusiastic about celebrating every little accomplishment and milestone for their clients. 30 days sober, finishing phase one of the program – just learning to celebrate and be proud of the little steps that add up instead of waiting to only celebrate the end goal. Real Life is the cheerleader that these people desperately need encouraging them on the sidelines.

Sarah printed out a certificate to congratulate one of their clients, brought it to the house and the client had tears in his eyes. She went over to ask if everything was okay and to her surprise, he responded “no one has ever told me that they’re proud of me”.

Who are some of your favorite people that you’ve met? “Some of the people that society has written off the most are some of the people I enjoy working with the most. Violent offenders, that fight the most, the biggest troublemakers are the best ones to work with because no one else is willing to take them on.”

Dr. Scarbrough went on to say how these “tough” people are often not as tough as you would think. When you start peeling back the layers of the onion, you often find someone who has been through abuse, trauma and is actually scared – those are some of the people who need this kind of program the most.

What’s it like when you watch them move through the program? “You literally see transformation before your eyes, the way that they talk changes, their face changes, the way they dress changes, everything about them slowly changes…I mean they look happier, they look healthier, they have more confidence, they’ll look you in the eye…whereas before they would never.”

You guys, Sarah is a JOY. She is hilarious, she’s a perfect mix of tough and kind and what she’s doing is hard work that most people could never imagine diving head first into… but her vision with the Real Life program is proving to change hundreds of lives. If you want a quick and effective look into seeing the work they are doing in Richmond, Virginia – read this report & infographic!

You can donate HERE (see below how your support helps!)

$17.50 sponsors transportation for one person for a week

$30.00 sponsors getting a state identification and birth certificate for one person

$60.00 sponsors transportation for one person for a month

$600 sponsors one person to live in the REAL House for 6 months

$888 sponsors one person to receive services at the Center for a year (this cost is down from the initial cost to serve a person for $1,320)


Thank you for reading about Sarah and all of the AMAZING WORK she is doing with the REAL LIFE Center in Richmond, Virginia!!

THANK YOU for showing up for Homeless Looks Like.

Warmly, Amanda, Amanda + Mike



Shallow question answers from Sarah HERE:

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