Feb 5, 2024, The Albany Herald
ALBANY – Izzie Sadler has lived around the world, but she ignited her passions into a bright career in Albany.
Sadler is another prominent leading lady in the “Good Life City,” where she works as the executive director of SOWEGA Council on Aging, a nonprofit that works to enhance the lives of seniors across southwest Georgia.
The organization has seen a stream of innovation in Sadler’s six years as executive director, even turning COVID-19 pandemic limitations into opportunities for growth. Sadler said the work she does at the SOWEGA Council on Aging falls directly in line with her passion for helping people be their best selves.
“It matched my passion for people and making sure they’re connected and finding meaning and purpose in their life,” she said. “I think that happens here in this agency every day.”
Each job Sadler’s worked is linked by this passion; however, she didn’t make the connection until her current season of life.
The executive director was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father served in the U.S. Army and met her mother while stationed in France. Sadler lived in various places, attending school in Ethiopia, Africa and France until finally graduating high school in Germany in 1989. She was just 17 years old when she moved across the world to the United States.
While studying communications at Florida State University, Sadler said she wanted to find a way to turn her interests in fitness into a part-time job. She worked her way through college as a personal trainer and fitness instructor at the gym she attended.
“Through that work, you learn so much about why people do what they do,” she said. “I just became fascinated with helping people become a better version of themselves – the version that they see for themselves.”
When she moved to Albany, Sadler co-operated a tennis facility for a bit and then took a job at the Albany Area YMCA. In her eight years there, she worked her way up, developed projects and aided in the campaign to build the Lee County YMCA.
She took a year away from work after having her third child. Sadler said she missed working and helping people. When she saw the listing for development director at the SOWEGA Council on Aging, she applied and got the job.
Her initial role was to raise the capital to build the nonprofit’s current facility, which sits at 335 W. Society Ave. However, this isn’t what drew her to the job.
“It was what was going to happen in the building that made me passionate about the project, because this was going to be a place where seniors could come, engage in activities, socialize with one another and really have a reason to wake up in the morning,” Sadler said.
After seven years at the SOWEGA Council on Aging, she worked her way up to executive director after the previous director, Kay Hind, retired after 49 years.
Sadler said leadership was never her goal. However, she took it upon herself to learn everything she could about the agency.
“I don’t think it matters what position you come into an agency or a company at,” she said. “I believe that if you take initiative, learn and have the intention of helping, then you will find that you almost promote yourself.”
She said one doesn’t have to officially oversee people to lead either. She treats every person at SOWEGA Council on Aging as a leader.
“No matter their position, they are an expert in what they do,” Sadler said. “That’s the culture we’ve developed here.”
While she didn’t always dream of being a leader, leadership gives her more influence in helping senior clients maintain healthy and fulfilling lives, Sadler said. When she took over as executive director, she wanted to maintain the nonprofit’s legacy.
“But at the same time, we were at a point where aging is moving in a new direction, and we had to make that transition between where we were and where we needed to go,” she said.
Sadler is responsible for the change in the organization’s senior centers and activities that gained the nonprofit state recognition as the Aging & Disability Resource Connection AAA Excellence in Innovation Award recipient by the Georgia Department of Human Services in 2022.
This change saw the organization’s in-person senior centers transition into a “Senior Center Without Walls” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency began partnering with local restaurants to provide seniors with free, balanced restaurant meals where they could bring friends or family to get out into the community.
SOWEGA COA also partnered with local organizations like the YMCA to provide spaces for seniors to participate in activities like water aerobics or tennis.
Sadler said if clients lived in Dougherty County, they could go somewhere like BJ’s Country Kitchen for lunch and then to the Albany Area YMCA for a fitness class.
“It helps people really be in the community,” she said.
The new program was such a hit that it grew their clientele from 500 people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 1,500 within six months.
Sadler said the roughly 56,000 aging seniors across the 14 counties SOWEGA COA serves have unique needs. They live in rural areas in a region where poverty levels are high and finding housing is a challenge. However, she said she and her team are focused on quick moving innovation.
When reflecting on her career journey, Sadler said she never viewed gender as a barrier. She said men and women have different strengths, and many women are drawn to the nonprofit sector, which is often a great fit for female leaders.
Where women really shine is that we’re great multitaskers, and we can do a lot with few resources,” Sadler said. “We’re caring … and naturally more nurturing.”
Sadler said confidence and success come with practice.
“The more you practice what you do, the more it becomes your identity,” she said. “Know where you want to go, and find some real steps that you need to take to get there. There’s no room for doubt.”
She advised young women to focus on the things that light them up.
“Your work can be something you love,” Sadler said. “No matter what you’re doing, you can pull your passion into it. If you find a way to connect your passion to it, you’re going to love what you do.”