Sara Sheeler has a lot of life experience that’s helpful as the new manager of the ECHO Village, which was developed to provide affordable, energy-efficient housing for veterans, single parents and immigrants.
Sara is a Marine Corps veteran, recently finished treatments for breast cancer, and is a survivor of domestic abuse.
“When I was interviewed by the board of directors for the ECHO Village, I let them know I was just as comfortable applying to be a resident as I was to be residential manager because I understand some of the travails that people living in the village have experienced,” Sara, said. “The village itself is just about a year old now. And I am very excited about continuing Dr. Dan Bell and Suzie Bell’s vision of providing affordable housing for folks who might not otherwise have a decent option. I’m grateful to be involved.”
She completed cancer radiation therapy, moved into the ECHO Village in July, and took over as manager August 1.
“I’m coming up on two months living at the ECHO Village and I love it here,” she said. “Dan and Suzie allowed me a couple weeks to recover from breast cancer treatments. What is unique about the ECHO Village is our ability to be either a small community or a very large family. We have ten houses and sixteen residents.”
Sara is looking forward to putting down roots.
“I’ve lived in 15 states in more than 40 homes,” she said. “I just walked out of an abusive 24-year marriage in which I worked entirely too hard and was isolated from my family and friends. I now find myself in a place where not only can I use all of my experiences for the benefit of the village, but I have some wonderful friends here and a great support system.”
Sara’s experience has given her empathy for others in abusive situations. And it has made her appreciate a village that takes care of its own.
“There is a lot attention and care given to anyone who might need something whether they are low on money this month, need help fixing something, or just want to talk to you for a few minutes because something is giving them a hard time in life,” she said.
Rental housing in Eureka Springs is not just too expensive for many people, but a lot of the homes lack insulation and efficient double-pane windows. That can mean high heating bills in the winter, when many people are not employed because tourism drops off. This year the situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus.
Right now, there is a substantial waiting list of potential residents of the ECHO Village. It will be easier to house some of those people as ECHO Village volunteers continue building the remaining 16 homes originally planned. Construction is currently paused by the pandemic, but Sheeler said that is helpful in allowing her to settle in and learn about the village culture.
“The price of construction materials has skyrocketed recently, and that has a big impact on building energy-efficient, comfortable homes for people,” she said. “Lumber products alone have gone through the roof. A lot of people in the U.S. are doing home renovations and repairs. It is my hope we will continue construction at the ECHO Village in 2021. I’m working on some post-construction cleanup and landscaping right now.”
She arrived in Eureka Springs four months ago and knew about the position at ECHO before she moved.
“I was so grateful for the opportunity to apply,” she said. “It really dovetailed with my own skills and experiences.”
Sara has particular empathy for veterans.
“We made a large mistake when we sent so many active duty military young people to war overseas, and so many of our reservists,” she said. “Both endured multiple deployments that left them not only with post-traumatic stress disorder, but oftentimes not the skills to be able to re-integrate into civilian life. As a veteran myself, I am aware of the additional challenges placed on female veterans: higher rates of homelessness, higher rates of PTSD, higher rates of domestic abuse and higher rates of suicide.”
Come watch us grow
Currently the village greenhouse is winding down from summer production, and Sara is working on plans to do some fall and winter vegetable growing.
“I’m also working to create connections with local organizations such as the Eureka Springs High School to have students do some of their volunteer work here,” Sheeler said. “I’m grateful for all the work Jerry Landrum and others have done on the greenhouse and landscaping, and glad to have the opportunity to build on that.”