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Sarah Jackson on Making a Positive Impact on Immigrant Families, the Power of Small Steps, and Why You Need to Just Get Started – Cracking Creativity Episode 44

Sarah Jackson is the founder of Casa de Paz, a hospitality home for families affected by immigrant detention. She is also the founder of Volleyball Latino, a year-round indoor volleyball league that raises money for Casa de Paz. In this episode, Sarah talks about why she started Casa de Paz and Volleyball Latino, the importance of taking small steps, and why you need to take action if you want to achieve your goals.

Here are three things you can learn from Sarah:

One Moment Can Completely Change Your Life

Sarah was working at a church when she received an email that would change her life. The email was an invitation to the pastors of her church to visit Mexico and learn about immigration. The pastors couldn’t attend, so she volunteered to go to represent the church.

Before going, Sarah had never thought of immigration or its affect on people. She just thought it would nice to take a free trip to Mexico. Little did she know, the trip would radically affect her life.

While there, she learned that there are families who want to be together but can’t be. Since her family was so important to her, she wanted to help other families be together.

From that moment on, Sarah has spent most of her energy trying to figure out how to help the families of immigrant detainees. This led to the formation of Casa de Paz and Volleyball Latino.

The Power of Small Steps

There are days we all feel overwhelmed. We have so many tasks on our to-do list. That giant project looms over us. Instead of panicking and worrying about everything you need to accomplish, focus on the next thing on your list.

Sarah gives the example of cleaning her house. Even though she knows exactly what she needs to do, it can be overwhelming thinking of all the things that need to be done. Instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, she makes a list of everything that needs to get done.

“Even though I know in my head what needs to be done to clean the house, I still write it down.” This allows her to measure her progress. She can see that what she’s doing is making a difference. “It makes me feel better and it keeps me motivated.”

Whenever you feel like your task list is becoming overwhelming, just focus on the one thing you should work on next. This allows you to break down giant tasks into much more manageable ones, and you are also able to see the progress you are making.

Just Do It

We all have lofty goals, but how often do we act on them? We badly want to change the world, but we rarely ever take that chance.

We are afraid to fail. We let the enormity of the task overwhelm us. One piece of advice Sarah got was to just do something, even if it is something small. Just get started, and the path ahead will reveal itself before you.

When she first started, Sarah was intimidated and embarrassed about her idea of creating a hospitality home. Her thoughts were clouded by all the what ifs. Her fears overwhelmed her, but then she decided to just do it. She started with something small. It created momentum. “One thing led to another and now it’s it’s own apartment.”

Sarah believes you shouldn’t let your pride, your fear, or the embarrassment of being a failure “prevent you from starting something you know that you need to do.” It might not end up being the right thing for you, but you will never know until you try.

Find people who will support and respect your crazy ideas. Find someone who has done something similar and ask them for advice. You need to understand what your part is and just go after it.


  • about Sarah
    • founder of Casa de Paz & Volleyball Latino
    • before starting Casa de Paz she didn’t know much about immigration
    • was working at a church
      • as pastor’s assistant one her jobs was to look through the pastor’s email
      • one of the emails was invitation from Catholic charities
        • they wanted to learn more about immigration
        • the pastors couldn’t attend, so she volunteered to get a free trip to Mexico
      •  spent week for the trip in Mexico and learned a lot
        • learned there are families who want to be together but can’t be together
        • family is important to her and she wanted to help other families be together
      • was at a point in life where she was content with her job and surroundings, but the trip changed all of that
    • first moment of change was moving to Denver
    • didn’t know anyone there, but knew she could learn a lot more and do a lot more there
    • looked for a room to rent with Spanish speaking family to brush up on Spanish
    • lived with them for a few months to learn about immigration detention center
      • center holds hundreds of immigrants
      • realized those detainees were separated from their families
      • started attending rallies and prayer vigils at the center
      • found out about detention center in Georgia
        • host families in homes who are there to see people in detention center
        • realized that’s what she wanted to do
        • thought it would be easy and a way for families to be together
      • stayed with the director of the center and learned how they ran the homes
      • as soon as she got back, she found a way to host Casa de Paz

“I had arrived. I thought I had made it until I went on that trip and I had this feeling in my gut where I knew my life was going to change. I didn’t know how , but I knew it was.”

  • job before Casa de Paz
    • was pastor’s assistant
    • did scheduling, bulletin board printing, and administrative work
    • only learned about trip to Mexico from the email to pastor
    • never would have thought about immigration if it weren’t for that email
  • how she was able to create Casa de Paz
    • didn’t ask for help in the beginning
    • didn’t like asking for help or be a burden
    • realized she should have asked sooner, because she wouldn’t be able to do it alone
    • asked her job if she could work part-time to work on Casa de Paz and they agreed
  • services she provides at Casa de Paz
    • hospitality housing for families coming from out of town
    • detainees can be transferred at any moment
    • provides free place to stay for these families
      • offer transportation to/from airport
      • also provide food, child support, and counseling
    • post release care
      • when detainees are released, they are just shown the door, they are integrated back into the community
      • they can stay at the home so they can contact loved ones
    • visitation program
      • hundreds of people stuck in dorms without anyone to visit
      • find volunteers to go to detention center to be a friend
      • remind people they are not alone and people care about them
  • the effect of random events on life
    • volunteer visiting lady from El Salvador
      • was trying to scrounge up money for her asylum case
      • same day, woman asks for address to send for Casa de Paz
      • check was for the same amount needed for asylum case
    • likes to have people in her life that remind her of why things happen
    • Synchronicity episodes with Maia Monasterios | Jennifer Palmer | Katy Walker and Joel Mejia
    • sometimes people think she makes up the stories because they are so serendipitous

“The older I get, the more I realize that nothing is random. It feels random in the moment, but looking back at how things connect to one another and how that decision affected this path that I took… I just don’t believe that things are random anymore, and it still happens to me to this day.”

“There are things in life that I have no idea why they’re happening, but when they happen, I just accept it.”

  • things she tried to do by herself before seeking guests
    • hosting guests
      • now she hosts community of volunteers
      • keeps everyone connected to mission
      • give people the privilege of hosting people
    • told families that stayed at Casa de Paz, that she would visit their loved ones herself
      • realized she needed more visitors
      • guard looked at her weird because he recognized her
        • guards thought she was dating multiple men there
    • tried to pay expenses out of pocket
      • got harder to do because all the expenses went up from all the visitors that came
      • started to run out of money
      • found it hard to ask for help, but even harder to ask for money
      • almost quit but, friend encouraged her to continue and wouldn’t let her quit
        • friend asked her what she liked to do, she responded with volleyball
        • he suggested starting a volleyball league
        • create a family oriented league which would separate the league from others
        • still had her doubts about it
        • two teams signed up from radio ads
        • went to friends who were connected in immigrant rights community
        • season ended up with six teams which paid for the rent at Casa de Paz
        • league is all about the family and fun
      • Volleyball Latino is now in 19th season with over 70 teams
  • growing the league size
    • a lot were word of mouth and a lot came through the community
    • people were having fun and wanted friends to join
    • people knew money was going to support the community
    • as it grew bigger, they could offer different leagues for different skill levels
  • positioning your ideas behind a story
    • sharing pictures of guests or telling stories about people staying at the house
    • invites guests who are staying at the house to volleyball league
      • likes to show people how Casa de Paz is able to house people

“It’s a really really powerful and special night for me when a guest at Casa de Paz gets to come to volleyball and see in action all of the players who care about them without ever even meeting them.”

  • stories about people who have stayed at Casa de Paz
    • man staying there for a night made her Jamaican and chicken and dumplins
      •  mom taught him how to make the dish
      • was many years since he got to see her
      • few months later she got a call from him while he was cooking chicken and dumplins with his mom
      • he didn’t know if it would have been possible if he didn’t have Casa de Paz
  • day to day work
    • hard to have structure/routine for Casa de Paz because of the nature of it
    • she has to be flexible with people
    • people who were at detention center often don’t know when they will be released
    • once she knows a guest is being released, she goes into action
    • has a volunteer list who are able to handle tasks if Sarah is busy
    • every quarter she holds visitation training
      • learn what to say/what not to say
      • based on location of detainee, she is able to figure out who can visit
    • Volleyball
      • many details she didn’t know about – schedule/players overalapping/announcements/ registration/sponsorships/advertising and promotion
      • holding contests, MVPs for players, etc.
      • knows everything that has to get done each day, but doesn’t always know what order it will happen or if things will come up

“A lot of what I do is routine, so the more seasons that I’ve done it, the easier it’s become because I know every week of the season and what I’m supposed to do. But then there are always things that come up that have never happened before or that I wasn’t planning for… and that has been a really big difference and big shift in the way that I see my day.”

  • big picture vs. breaking day into smaller steps

“Some days, where I feel overwhelmed, even just cleaning the house, I can think to myself, ‘I don’t even have time to clean the house. How am I going to do this?’ So what I do is, I actually make a list of everything that needs to be done in order to clean the house, and even though I know in my head what needs to be done to clean the house, I still write it down. And as each thing is completed, I cross it off and I can measure my progress, and I can see that I’m making a difference in the big picture of getting the house clean, and it makes me feel better and it keeps me motivated.”

“Writing it out and seeing it and visualizing it and watching my progress, it is so motivating.”

  • others who help her run Casa de Paz and Volleyball Latino
    • Casa de Paz is all volunteer based
    • Volleyball – has a couple of people who help her
      • translator for Spanish
      • woman who coordinates all the money of the leagues
      • woman who is in charge of Open Play days
  • future of her work
    • wants to hire full-time coordinator/host for Casa de Paz
      • would like to have a former detainee run it
      • wants host to live in the same complex as the guests
      • important for detainee to be the host because they were already in those shoes
    • Volleyball league wants to host 7 days a week, currently at 3 days
      • also wants clinics, tournaments, and practices
      • wants money raised from league to help other people who want to open up something similar in their area
  • how her outlook on life has changed since starting Casa de Paz
    • part of heart is harder/more callous b/c she sees the reality of how messy the world is
    • other part of heart is more filled with hope because of the love/generosity she’s seen in her community
    • another part of her heart is much better for knowing how many people have been positively affected by it
    • one of the men whose identity was stolen had to fight for three years because of it
      • she asked if he was mad at the detention center for keeping him there, and he said he wasn’t, he was mad at the person who stole his identity
      • lost use of one of his legs in detention
      • said there’s no way he could get up because he’s never been down

“Looking back to where I was a few years ago to where I am now, I think there’s a lot of different things that I’ve learned and different people that I’ve met that have reshaped how I see the world, but people like that, like Jose, who stayed at Casa de Paz after his release, they give me hope and even after I see dirty things… those are the people in my life who keep me humble and hungry to experience more of those stories.”

  • lessons she’s learned and advice for people with ideas
    • got advice to do something, do something small, and just start it
    • sees other people who are movers and shakers, but they started small too
    • find people who will support and respect your crazy ideas
    • find someone doing something similar to you for advice
    • understand where your part is
    • nothing is a substitute for face to face meetings with people who are your supporters
    • take lessons from those who came before you

“Just do it. When I first started, I was so intimidated and so embarrassed that I had this idea of creating this hospitality home, but what if nobody showed up? What if? What if? What if? And I had all these fears that were swirling around in my mind and they almost made me not want to do it because I almost let those fears overwhelm me. But if you just do it, just start something small… I did something small and it started creating momentum and eventually one thing led to another and now it’s it’s own apartment.”

“Don’t let my pride, and my fear, and my embarrassment of being a failure prevent you from starting something that you know that you need to do and maybe it’s the right for you to do and maybe not, but you’ll never know until you try.”

  • morning routine
    • first hour is looking at “What is my day going to look like?”
    • makes a list of things she has to do
    • looks for the best times to do the things on her list
    • doesn’t schedule anything before noon
  • books, podcasts, etc.
    • Seth Godin – inspires her and gets her to look at things in a different way
    • reads to escape and don’t have a connection to her work
    • Standing on the Side of Love  – book about woman’s experience being in detention center for 16 months
      • seeing that what she wasn’t in vain and there’s a bigger purpose for everything
      • finding a bigger purpose behind the pain
  • creative people
    • most creative people have had the least resources (time/money/etc.)
    • likes to surround herself with people of different backgrounds/ideas
    • Seth Godin looking at different concepts in life
    • likes people who make her feel uncomfortable
  • definition of creativity
    • doesn’t consider herself a creative person

“What I see as being creative is just surviving and figuring out a way to do what you love to do and have fun at it and make a difference in the world… being creative for me means finding something that I am passionate about and finding a way to bring some kind of justice to something that’s wrong in this world. That for me, when I find that sweet spot… that for me is where creativity comes together.”

Casa de Paz  |  Volleyball Latino  |  Casa de Paz Facebook  |  Volleyball Latino Facebook


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