In 1956, the United States launched a Jupiter-C rocket as a prequel to the Space Race. Meanwhile, in Wiesbaden, Germany, Sallie White was born at a US Air Force Base, where her father was stationed. So began her quest to find her own sense of space.
Today, White is the happy owner of WhiteHouse & Co., a Greensboro consulting and design firm for “spaces that matter,” including home space, green space and personal space. And that’s just the most recent career endeavor in her life’s journey from the Baby Boom to the great unknown. So what’s next?
“I don’t know, I’ve always been dabbling in other things,” says White. “But I like not knowing what’s next.”
White traveled three continents with her father’s military career, but a defining Boomer moment happened in the early 60s when the Whites were stationed in Montgomery, Alabama.
“We saw crosses being burned in people’s yards,” says White. “My mom put us in her car and drove us to Selma so we could see the terrible things that were going on there in response to the civil rights march…letting us see the brutality was her way to show us how not to live our lives.”
When White’s father retired in 1969, the family settled in his hometown, Savannah, Georgia.
After earning a degree in art from the University of Georgia, Florida called. Not any particular job, just the beaches, where White spent a few years “bumming around and surfing” as she sought space to find her passion, which eventually revealed itself as a blend of creativity and service.
In Spartanburg, South Carolina, White found her first career position in an arts for the handicapped program for the local school system. Then came a stint in commercial and residential design with a Swiss firm based in Spartanburg.
“I didn’t have a degree in architecture or interior design, but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to apprentice with a wonderful German architect,” says White.
In 1989, White followed her passion for community service to become the first executive director of the new Guilford Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (GRAIN).
“This was prior to drugs keeping people alive and I had many friends with HIV,” says White. “At that time AIDS patients were stigmatized and ostracized. There was a climate of fear and prejudice, even within the religious community. And it was shameful.
“But GRAIN was a way of saying ‘we’re not going to turn our backs on this,’” says White, who led the organization for five years and was responsible for establishing an innovative Care Team program that matched AIDS patients with surrogate families to provide support as the often fatal disease progressed.
In 1995, Replacements LTD owner Bob Page responded to White’s direct request for a property in which to offer clients a place of community and support. Page offered a home he owned to house GRAIN’s offices and expanding day programs, rent free. “Higher Ground” Day Center is still in operation in the same location on Bessemer Ave, a legacy of White’s professional commitment to the organization. Eventually, Higher Ground was brought under the umbrella of Triad Health Project.
“Two of my oldest friends that I made during that time are alive and well today, managing the disease as a chronic illness instead of a death sentence,” tells White. “It is miraculous how far we have come.”
The senior services non-profit Adult Center for Enrichment (ACE) benefited from White’s experience when she served as director of education. Her passion for non-profits met her passion for the arts by launching an art therapy program called “Expression of Life.”
In 2009, at 53, White decided to dedicate her full attention to creativity and opened WhiteHouse & Co. But please don’t call it her “second act.”
“It’s more like Act 15!” says White. “I’ve had the curiosity to jump off more than one career bridge in my life and haven’t regretted any of it. I recently got my certificate to teach English as a second language, so if the economy gets worse I can indulge my love of travel and always find work.”
A second defining Boomer experience for White was being a caregiver—long distance— to her widowed father in Savannah. She alternated weeks with her brothers until their father passed away in 2007.
White has two children, both influenced by her “find-your-passion-first” approach. Her son is a professional photographer and her daughter is apprenticing as a tattoo artist. She attributes much of her life experience to the local Servant Leadership program she enrolled in after moving to Greensboro.
“In Servant Leadership you discover who you are on a spiritual level and your innate talents and then offer those in the context of community,” explains White. “I came from a very conservative old Southern family in which you got married, stay married and stayed in Savannah. But I never fit the mold. I appreciate all that my family gave me, but I think I’m just a seeker at heart.”
For now, WhiteHouse & Co. is a way to help others redefine their own space, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Sallie White is enjoying it for now, but she’s guessing there are even more career paths on the horizon.