By Krystal Hill ’11, AlumniCorps Intern
“What are you going to do with the last third of your life?” asked Ralph Nader ’55, with an intense, inquisitive look in his eyes. It was 1989 and an aging group of men and their wives sat staring right back; many pondered the question, but they had not answered it, “What could they do?” Leaning forward, Ralph Nader paused and slowly surveyed the room. In a low voice he said, “Create an alumni service organization.” It was a simple idea; but it struck a chord as each felt the electricity of excitement in the room. They could change the world.
Sara Deitch, wife of Milton Deitch ’55, felt the electricity too. But the idea was for the men. The women, mostly housewives, were not considered part of the big picture. It was not until months later, when the men realized that starting an alumni service organization required the expertise of women, much like their wives, that Sara was able to really smile and relish in the excitement of the idea.
After the mini-reunion in Washington, Milton and Sara Deitch both became part of the AlumniCorps community. They were proud Board members of the organization and for six years they trekked back and forth from their home in Atlanta to AlumniCorps in Princeton to attend Board meetings, where ideas flew like sparks.
In 1992, Bill Shafer ’55, another Board member, got her involved in service credit banking. Sara used the concept of service credit banking to create her own organization, CareShare Exchange, which helps senior citizens live independently instead of in institutional care. If a woman needs a ride to the doctor, a driver, whether older or younger, is available to drive her and then banks the hours, and in return the woman would offer another service such as making telephone calls to make up for the hours it took to drive her. Younger volunteers banked hours into a community account where people could withdraw from without having to do anything in return.
Despite fundraising barriers, Sara is quick to say the program was successful. By providing services for Senior Citizens, Sara’s organization raised awareness within the Atlanta community about senior citizen life. Under her guidance, from 1992 to 2004 CareShare Exchange blossomed into a functioning senior citizen program that benefited not only the senior citizens involved but also the volunteers who participated. In 2004, the Atlanta Senior Citizens Services, another senior citizen community organization, was intrigued by what Sara had been doing and folded CareShare Exchange into their program.
Sara’s hard work for the elderly carried over to helping Princeton students in Atlanta. She ran the Atlanta Project 55 Fellowship Program in the 1990s, forming bonds with over 20 agencies for placements. “She is a visionary…very determined,” says Milton, describing his wife, “because of her I became involved in a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been involved in on my own.”
The Deitch’s house became a home away from home for many Princeton interns and fellows and they remember Sara’s kindness and generosity. She enjoyed building lasting relationships with the interns and fellows in Atlanta during and after their time working for non-profits in the area. Additionally, Sara built relationships with the support staff at Princeton AlumniCorps in Princeton, particularly Marjorie K. Berger, the late Princeton AlumniCorps administrator.
“The changes taking place now are wonderful because you can see the concept broadening to involve more alumni…it’s evolving,” says Sara. Sara Deitch, in her own right, changed her world and the world of the people she came in contact with; thus fulfilling and building upon the ideas Ralph Nader proposed in the 1989 Washington Reunion. Twenty-one years later, Princeton AlumniCorps is still going strong.
“Awesome!” is the first word that comes to mind when Sara thinks about Princeton AlumniCorps; it is also the perfect word to describe her. What began in Washington has multiplied across cities and across generations with the hard work of leaders like Sara. Thank you, Sara Deitch, for your years of meaningful service.