Rural America lost one of its most tenacious champions with the death of Sandy Rosenblith last month. She was one of the most effective, difficult people I have ever known.
She understood how important place-based change is to low-wealth communities, and that strong, resident-led organizations are key to creating jobs, housing, financial services and the other things people need to get ahead. Unlike many, she also saw that these same organizations could be unique policy actors, bringing experienced and persistent voices to the federal policymaking process.
For nearly three decades, Sandy tirelessly supported comprehensive, resident-led development in distressed communities through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. While she worked in many urban communities, Sandy was best known for building Rural LISC. Under her leadership, Rural LISC grew to help hundreds of community development corporations access training, technical assistance, grants and low-cost loans for local projects across 40 states.
She made federal policy better. At a Washington, D.C. reception, I watched her corral multiple senior legislators from both parties, very directly sharing her perspective with them, then making sure their constituents (and her CDC partners) got face time with their legislators.
Sandy helped write the first Community Reinvestment Act regulations, designed and helped implement the Rural Home Loan Partnership and contributed to the Rural Community Development Initiative, the first capacity building program for nonprofit developers in USDA.
Rural America requires difficult. The challenges are big and will require doing hard things. She felt this intensely. Small details really mattered to Sandy. Getting things right was important. Usually up early and late to bed, Sandy had high expectations for her partners and coworkers. Sometimes she nitpicked. Other times she was not hesitant to show her frustration. To her, all were to the end of moving hard and important things.
I learned deeply from her about commitment, passion, strategic action and how to do the unpopular thing regardless of what others think. We should all be so fortunate to be as effective and difficult. She will be missed.