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New Foundation endowment benefits women leaving prison; final act of Nancy Sarah, dedicated life to serving others

Nancy Sarah dedicated her life to serving others. And before she passed away in April 2006, she committed one last act of kindness, setting in motion a permanent endowment to help women in prison who need transitional housing, emergency assistance, and life coaching/counseling services upon their release.

A social worker and life coach, Sarah lived on Block Island and in Narragansett and volunteered for the last several years in the Adult Correctional Institution (ACI) in Cranston. She provided programming for women inmates that wasn’t available in regularly-offered courses. ACI Chaplain Rev. Joyce Penfield, who helped Ms. Sarah, told the Block Island Times, “By setting goals for something beyond these walls, she was helping the women to reach out into the future. She gave them hope!”

“The Nancy Sarah Fund for Women is a continuing legacy for her life-long work: the empowerment of those most underserved by our society,” reports her daughter Jennifer DaSilva.

Born in Indianapolis, Sarah moved to New York City in her early 20s to work at the Harlem Welfare Agency as a benefits counselor. She then moved to upstate New York where she opened a private therapy practice and taught early childhood development at Adelphi College. For the next several years, she managed an IBM employee assistance program. Sarah then moved to Yonkers, New York, to direct Casa Rita, a homeless shelter for substance-abusing women with children. In 2001, after six years at Casa Rita, she purchased the Sheffield House Bed & Breakfast on Block Island, where she had been coming as a vacationer since 1980.

Ms. Sarah quickly engaged in the Block Island community, reports her daughter. She helped found the Block Island peace vigil, a group that still meets every week; she worked as a counselor in the Block Island school; and she worked with Block Island and state organizations to combat domestic violence. Ms. Sarah also found time to take the Block Island ferry back and forth to the mainland every Thursday to volunteer her coaching skills with women at the ACI. Three weeks before she passed away, Ms. Sarah wrote a letter to the Block Island Times, encouraging her friends to contribute to the endowment that would be created after her death. Jennifer DaSilva concludes, “She would have been so happy to see how many people contributed to the fund, letting her know she wasn’t alone in her fight.”

The new fund is managed by The Rhode Island Foundation.


The Rhode Island Foundation was founded in 1916 and is one of the nation’s largest and oldest charitable organizations serving a specific geographic community.

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