Sheryl Adams: learning experience

Sheryl Adams’ tenure as executive director of Sans Souci started with a splash — literally.

Just one day after Adams accepted the executive director position at the local nonprofit, the flood of 2008 washed over Columbus, leaving behind a trail of flooded-out homes, possessions and lives in its wake.

Then, just one year later, the U.S. economy plummeted, and hundreds of local people, having lost both their jobs and homes, struggled to support their families.

The trouble continued in 2010, when the local United Way of Bartholomew County building burned down on Christmas.

Through the repeated waves of tragedy, Adams said she dove into her new leadership role and used her position to cater to the needs of local people who were navigating some of the toughest times of their lives.

“I spent the first four years putting out fires,” she said. “There were a lot of emergencies.”

Adams didn’t always picture herself as the leader of a nonprofit organization such as Sans Souci, which provides clothes, school supplies, household goods and other items at little to no cost to people in need.

In fact, she had no nonprofit experience at all when she was first hired as a cashier at Sans Souci 21 years ago. But from the moment she began working in the store, Adams said she knew she was where she was meant to be.

“It was a whole new world,” she said. “I loved helping people. I had found my niche.”

Throughout her career at Sans Souci, Adams has held almost every job imaginable — cashier, donations director, store manager, operations manager and now executive director.

That varied experience has exposed her to every aspect of the store, good and bad, that keeps the facility running.

“There’s nothing you could tell me that would surprise me,” she said.

Because of her lengthy experience in Sans Souci operations, Adams said she leads her employees by example, whether she’s working in the back office, sorting through clothes on the store floor or even scrubbing down the bathroom.

“I wouldn’t ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do,” she said.

She doesn’t limit herself to behind-the-scenes office work, either. In fact, Adams said her favorite part of the job is getting to be with people, whether she’s helping them find something on the floor, listening to their needs or just tidying up to make the store look nice.

Although her work at Sans Souci touches the lives of hundreds of people in Columbus, Bartholomew County and beyond, Adams said she has never considered herself a community leader.

“I’m just doing my job,” she said. “I consider myself a worker bee.”

At times, being the executive director can be frustrating, especially in situations where Adams is not able to meet every need a person brings into her office.

But if her organization is able to meet just one need of each person that walks through the Sans Souci doors, then Adams knows that her work is not in vain. To her, being Sans Souci’s leader is not about being the boss — it’s about respecting others and doing her part to help those who are struggling to make sure their life’s story ends in success.

“People’s needs don’t stop at 5 p.m. and don’t start at 9 a.m.,” she said. “You devote time to taking care of people. Everyone needs something.”

Adams bio

Sheryl Adams, 51, is a lifelong resident of Columbus who graduated from Columbus East High School in 1982.

She began working for Sans Souci 21 years ago and has worked her way through the store as a cashier, donations director, store manager and operations manager. She served as interim director in 2008 and was selected as the official executive director in June of that year.

She continues to live in Columbus today.

Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5712.