Praised as a self-starter and team player with a tireless commitment to helping others, the recipient of the 2020 Milton J. Samuelson Award, Sarah Heesen, credits her success to other women who are blind who have inspired her.
“While I am enormously grateful, I must admit that the Samuelson honor came a bit out of left field,” says Heesen, who works in business development at Beyond Vision, an NIB associated nonprofit agency based in Milwaukee. The award is named in honor of Milton J. Samuelson, a former NIB board member and executive director of The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, who was a strong advocate for upward mobility and placement programs benefiting people who are blind or visually impaired.
Heesen is friends with two previous Samuelson award recipients, Sandra Werner, her supervisor at NIB associated agency IBVI from 2006 to 2012, and Virginia Gay Young, whom she met through NIB’s Business Management Training program.
“I looked up to Sandra and Gay for their accomplishments, integrity, ambition, and leadership qualities,” Heesen says. Both women would be among the first people she would call on for advice in a challenging situation she says, because both could provide wise counsel.
“This award honors leadership, which is what I aim for. I have been inspired by Sandra, Gay, and other Samuelson achievers I’ve met through the years.”
Heesen’s solid record of achievement, coupled with her own leadership skills, made her a popular choice at Beyond Vision for the award. In her time with the agency, she has placed 100 people in temporary or permanent jobs.
“Sarah continuously challenges herself to accomplish new tasks and learn new skills,” says Beyond Vision President and CEO Jim Kerlin. “She’s passionate about doing her best and helping others do the same.”
Heesen encourages those who wish to become leaders to start by taking the initiative to find improvements in the positions they currently occupy.
A native of Janesville, Wisconsin, Heesen was born blind, inheriting her mother’s visual condition. She excelled in her studies and also was a top swimmer throughout middle and high school.
Her career at Beyond Vision started when she was hired to help with a large customer service campaign in 2016. She was promoted into a recruitment position three months later, and now works in business development, where she brings in new contracts with commercial companies looking to expand and better serve their existing customers.
“I’d like to spend the next 10 years developing my network and growing my business unit,” she says. Her ultimate goal is to be part of senior leadership at a business-oriented nonprofit.
Heesen balances her career with taking care of her son, Sam, who is also blind. To relax, she plays piano, sings, and is embarking on a new venture — taking guitar lessons!