Board Highlight: Sara Lindholm - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Board Highlight: Sara Lindholm

May 4, 2022

Before retiring in 2013, board member Sara Lindholm worked for 40 years as an affordable housing developer. Sara began her work at City Lands Corporation, the development affiliate of the South Shore Bank of Chicago, where she served as President and then Chairman of City Lands Corporation for twelve years. She then moved on to develop large-scale HOPE VI projects in Arkansas and New Jersey, and then in Chicago and throughout the Midwest for The Community Builders, Inc., one of the largest affordable housing developers in the country. 

Working within disinvested communities over the years, she became keenly aware of the constellation of factors now labeled the social determinants of health and of the critical need for policy changes and resources beyond affordable housing to level the playing field. She was introduced to Quentin Young and Health & Medicine in 2001, during a key inflection point in her private and professional life. The affordable housing industry was becoming more and more burdened with red tape and increased costs. Sara felt like the difficulty of connecting affordable housing with services that addressed tenants’ other issues, and the increased cost and time it took to build affordable housing, made it harder to justify keeping services segmented any longer.

Around the same time, Sara was offered a job to manage the Illinois Affordable Assisted Living Initiative (IAALI). Funded by Retirement Research Corporation, Community Memorial Foundation, and Chicago Community Trust, IAALI assisted nonprofits in developing affordable assisted living facilities under the state’s innovative Supportive Living Program and made it possible to integrate Medicaid payments with affordable housing finance mechanisms. That’s when she also met fellow board member Michael Gelder, who invited Sara to a fundraiser, where she bid on the silent auction for the chance to have lunch with Quentin Young.

“In 90 minutes, I was hooked,” said Sara, who has been a board member since 2004, and remembers her first few years as a haze of acronyms. “I participated in discussions on things I had never thought about. It was fascinating to discuss new, complex topics with so many guides and mentors to walk me through,” Sara shares. “It was a tremendous growth experience for me.”

Sara’s interest has always been in the aging sector, and this was heightened when she became her aged mother’s caregiver. She shares that she is wildly enthusiastic about Illinois Aging Together. “Because the campaign doesn’t fall directly into policy and advocacy or direct service, it allows us to reach out in a very different way than we ever have before. Our policy work in the past has been focused on very specific issues, but Illinois Aging Together addresses the challenges and the opportunities raised by our incredibly rapidly growing senior population,” she says. Sara shares that this campaign gives her hope because it allows us to advocate at the grassroots level, collaborate, and work across departments, despite the deterioration of the political situation in the country. Once the COVID-19 crisis fades, Sara says, we must focus on how to keep the issue of aging equity in the spotlight: “As Quentin used to say, don’t be afraid of saying the same thing again and again.”

From her time at Health & Medicine, Sara recalls being most excited in 2007 when the Cook County Health & Hospital System was put under the supervision of an independent board that would oversee all the operations of the hospital board, including hiring and contracting—a result of a coalition led by Health & Medicine and driven by Quentin Young and other board members.

Born in Uruguay, Sara grew up in Rio de Janeiro and spent her early adulthood in India before coming to Chicago to do graduate work in South Asian History. Married to George Surgeon, Lindholm has two grown children Erika and Joren. Outside of Health & Medicine, Sara has also worked with the Posse Foundation, an organization that supports and coaches students from disadvantaged communities throughout their senior year and college career, and volunteers at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. In 2021, she was appointed to the Department on Aging’s Older Adult Services Advisory Committee (OASAC).