Erika Saffold on Supporting Those Who Support Others

Erika Saffold didn’t set out to be in human resources. It was a love of people and a desire for fairness and respect in the workplace that shifted her path towards the field. Finding the right fit in the non-profit sector was an added bonus. At Heartland Alliance, Erika discovered that she could achieve her professional ambitions and find deeper purpose at the same time. She is currently a Human Resources Business Partner supporting Heartland Human Care Services with everything from talent development, coaching, and management development, to personnel changes, and job design.

What got you into this work?

I fell into HR. I thought I would be in television – behind the camera, not in front. I worked in television for a while and realized that the way they treated me was not fair. I thought there had to be a better way to be on the positive side of working and maybe even help to keep some of these things from happening. I moved back to Chicago and was working as an executive assistant in a midsized company. While I was there, I helped in the HR department and got to work with people, advocate for fairness, and help to influence policies and rules. I thought it was a good space for me, and the rest is history.

When did you know you were in the place you needed to be?

Before I came to Heartland, I had never worked for a non-profit. I started to research the organization and realized this company does everything I believe in, but I never knew large non-profits with a real corporate structure did that. I felt comfortable when I came here, and then I got deeper into the work and I found out really what we do. It was a different feeling of purpose. I could finally be in a space that I love, which is human resources, while still helping people on a different level. I feel like human resources helps people anyway, but now we are helping employees who are also helping people, which I feel you can’t get anywhere else. I love the fact that I can be supportive to our employees who are supportive to so many other people in the word.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Giving jobs, giving promotions, giving trainings. If there is something positive we get to do for our employees, I really enjoy that. And of course giving jobs to people who just want an opportunity with us, especially those who have been applying with us for years and finally they are offered a role. Those are the ones that really make it worth it.

As we think about having just celebrated the 4th of July and what it means to hold true to “American values” like equality, civil rights, and participation, can you talk about how Heartland promotes those kinds of values to our staff and our participants?

In my opinion, America is inclusive. We respect people’s differences and we promote equality. I think within Heartland, we are ahead of the curve when it comes to that. We have staff that represent all different shapes and sizes and cultures. Heartland embraces that and pushes it forward. We say that we support a wide array of participants and our employee base reflects that.

I also think this is a great time because Heartland embraces women, especially women in leadership. Our leaders really set the stage when it comes to strong women and minority women showing that we can run corporations – and do a great job at it – and we can be graceful, we can be beautiful, we can be everything that you expect from a woman plus more. Since I have been here, I have seen many women being hired into higher positions than what I have seen in my career.

How can others help promote these values on behalf of Heartland Alliance and in support of our mission?

I think a very simple concept is to respect differences. Respect that you work in a place that embraces differences, and you as an individual should as well. If you work alongside someone that is different from you, don’t make it a big deal and focus on pointing out your differences because we are all more the same than you might think. When people feel comfortable enough to share things with you, be open and receive the information, embracing the differences and what they say. Even if it’s something you don’t agree with, like a lifestyle or a career path, you can support the person. Doing that will make people across Heartland feel welcomed and it will show that we embrace equality, and differences, and everything that makes us who we are.

Poverty Awareness Month

January is Poverty Awareness Month, a month-long initiative to raise awareness and call attention to the growth of poverty in America. For 130 years we’ve been fighting to end poverty by creating equity and opportunity. This entire month, we’ve been talking about how and why poverty continues to impact so many of us around the globe.

From housing and healthcare, to education and opportunity – Heartland Alliance’s pillars of focus are how we help individuals achieve success – they’re also constantly under attack by inequity.


Housing is fundamental to exiting poverty. Without the safety, stability, and comfort of a home, achieving other markers of success – through education, employment, and wealth building – is much more difficult. In 2015, 38 percent of all “renter households” were rent burdened – and 17 percent of renter households that are severely rent burdened—spending 50 percent or more of monthly income on rent.

There are housing components in each of our five companies, providing either emergency, transitional, or permanent supportive housing to individuals as a foundational part of their success. For Heartland Housing residents Geraldine and her daughter Pryesha, the safety and stability of their Milwaukee apartment have led to very real successes – hear their story.


Poverty is increasingly linked to disparities in life expectancy. Low-income Americans have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions, compared to higher-income Americans. Further, poor health also contributes to reduced income, creating a cycle often referred to as the health-poverty trap.

Heartland Alliance Health has been providing healthcare access to some of Chicago’s hardest to reach populations for over three decades. Most recently, our new south side health center has helped us serve hundreds more in the Englewood neighborhood. See how this has impacted families.


Nearly 70 percent of adults having less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, and almost a third of all Americans without any savings at all. Ending poverty will require that individuals have the capacity to build real wealth, and not just live paycheck to paycheck.

Our Asset Building program connects individuals to resources and education that many today never receive – learning how to build and maintain savings and wealth. See how some of our most recent Asset Building graduates feel about their financial futures in this piece.


Poverty can impact the ability to obtain employment – but it can also force people to stay in jobs where they are unsafe, mistreated or take advantage of.

When individuals don’t have access to employment that is fair and based in human rights, they can fall further into poverty. Income from work improves access to the necessities of life – and we must work to create a society where no one has to choose between their dignity or their paycheck. See Isabel’s story to learn more about how fair treatment in the workplace is a crucial part of ending and keeping people out poverty.


Violence and poverty often flourish under the same circumstances, including lack of access to jobs, inadequate investment in public services, poor health conditions, lack of educational opportunities, and more.

Poor households nationwide experience violence at the highest rates, regardless of whether they’re in urban, suburban, or rural areas. Addressing poverty is a key part of ending violence. By bettering underlying quality of life conditions— we can ensure that every person has an adequate standard of living, free from poverty and violence.

Read Tevin’s story to see the impact of second chances. His experience shows that when we give people real opportunity when they return from incarceration, they can not only rebuild their own lives but bring hope to communities.


There are 4.1 million adults in Illinois alone who have a criminal record. In the US there are an estimated 50,000 collateral consequences for those who have been justice involved – meaning they have been restricted from housing, employment, education and other opportunities that help lift individuals out of poverty.

About 30,000 people leave Illinois prisons every year, and nearly half of them return within three years. Making it easier for ex-offenders to work by removing these collateral consequences, would reduce recidivism and increase equity and opportunity. We ALL deserve the opportunity to provide for ourselves and obtain opportunity. For years, as a member of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), Heartland Alliance’s Policy team has been working closely with anti poverty agencies across the state to increase opportunity for ex-offenders by allowing them better access to education and jobs.

Our policy team’s Quentin Williams has been leading the charge to help those living post-incarceration find real justice – through hope and opportunity. See his ideas in this Spotlight on Poverty piece.

Being the Difference at the Heartland Alliance Annual Dinner


On October 11, Heartland Alliance celebrated the bold and courageous actions we are taking to create a future of equity and opportunity for all at our Annual Dinner.

A highlight of the evening was an amazing discussion with Mike Brady, Eddie Bocanegra, READI Chicago participant Mendai, and Evelyn Diaz. Our panelists shared personal stories about how access to opportunity has shaped their lives, inspiring us all to think about how each one of us has the potential to be the difference in the lives of others and in our communities. Learn more about how READI Chicago and Greyston are helping to remove barriers to employment for those who are marginalized, including people with criminal backgrounds.

Thanks to our generous sponsors and guests, more than $360,000 was raised to support the important work of Heartland Alliance! We demonstrated that–together–we can be the difference for those among us who are often overlooked!

Learn more about and get involved in our upcoming events.

The Annual Dinner was Presented By:

Thank you to our Premier, Platinum, and Gold Sponsors:

The Crown Family