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Celebrating 150 Years of Sarah A. Reed

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Throughout history, there are women who have stepped up to make a difference in their communities. Many of these women didn’t see themselves as leaders, but they had a vision and blazed a new path, leaving a mark that transcends time.

Sarah A. Reed was one such woman. A prominent great- granddaughter of Erie’s first family, Reed was a true influencer of her time. She had connections, business savvy — passed down from her father who was Secretary-Treasurer of the Erie Canal — and made it her mission to dedicate her life to community service. In 1871, when she and a group of 30 women joined forces to form “The Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor, and A Home for the Friendless,” it was a decision that would impact thousands of lives for generations to come.

At first, the “Home for the Friendless” operated out of the family homestead of Reed’s great-uncle Rufus Reed on Seventh and State Streets, and eventually moved to the site of the future Soldiers and Sailors Home. In 1875, the home found a more permanent location at 22nd and Sassafras Streets — gifted by a Board member and her husband, the Honorable M.B. Lowry, an Erie native and Pennsylvania state senator. By 1890, as the needs of the community grew, the home expanded to separate buildings for children and adults.

Reed devoted her life to what would be known as Erie’s oldest human services agency, serving as president for 45 years, while also dedicating her time and service to 25 other organizations and various charities in the Erie area. In fact, “Erie’s Grand Old Lady” had such a profound impact on the community, that the mayor of Erie named March 16, 1927 “Sarah Reed Day” in honor of her 89th birthday. In 1934, Reed passed away at the age of 96. Two years later, the organization was renamed in her honor — something the humble Reed never allowed during her lifetime.

One hundred and fifty years since founding the “Home for the Friendless,” the legacy of Sarah Reed and her 30 co-founders lives on in two separate nonprofit centers incorporated in 1986 — Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center, the region’s longest-standing behavioral health facility, and the former “Old Ladies Home” — the multi-faceted, continuing care senior living facility, Sarah Reed Senior Living.

Erie’s Longest-Standing Behavioral Health Facility
Adrienne Dixon, Ph.D., president and CEO of Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center, is proud to carry on the legacy begun by Sarah Reed and the Center’s founding group of women 150 years ago. A psychologist, Dixon has dedicated 34 years of her professional career to the Children’s Center,
most recently as associate vice president of residential and community services. Much like Reed, Dixon has been a trailblazer as a woman in leadership. In fall 2020, Dixon not only became the first female president since Reed, she is also the first person of color to lead the Agency.

“It’s humbling and honestly it means a lot to me, especially during these times of adversity. I’ve dedicated 34 years of my career to making a difference at Sarah Reed and in the community, and as I reflect back on everything that has occurred over the past year, I’m very honored and excited to be the first woman of color,” she says.

Dixon says the decision to work with children wasn’t her initial career plan. However, when she answered an ad for a community-based program moved by the enthusiasm of colleagues Rick Scantlebury and Dan Alessi about the Center, she knew it was the right place for her. From there, Dixon, who is fluent in Spanish, became instrumental in a collaboration with the Migrant Head Start Program. She went on to contribute her clinical expertise to the Center in developing additional services at Sarah Reed’s Partial Hospitalization Program, and implementing mental health and drug and alcohol clinics before becoming more involved in the residential and community support programs.

Read more in the April 2021 edition of the Business Magazine.