Ning Sanderson grew up in small town in Thailand, hours from her single mother, who worked in Bangkok for the hospitality sector. Then, when she was 13, her mom married an American civil engineer, and the family moved to Saudi Arabia for his job. Since their new Saudi town lacked a high school, Sanderson moved again. At 16, she arrived alone in Fort Wayne to live with her stepdad’s sister. “I was on my own since I was little,” she says. “That’s what made me such a strong person. I learned determination to get things done.”
In Fort Wayne, Sanderson adapted quickly. She learned English, married a Fort Wayne native, had a son, and became an accounting clerk at 3Rivers Credit Union. She also enrolled at Purdue University Fort Wayne but was forced to drop out to support her family. “I’m self-taught,” she says. “Even though I didn’t finish college, I have a lot of agency.” When 3Rivers offered her a home computer, she put in extra hours learning the company’s software. She then became integral to growing the company’s ATM department and helped to open multiple new banking locations.
In 1995, Sanderson became an accountant at the local YWCA, where she then spent the next 16 years. Her role supported the organization’s many family programs, including two shelters: one for female domestic abuse victims and another for single moms who are pursuing their degrees. When she left the YWCA, Sanderson took a job at a different women’s shelter. She continued to do accounting, but also managed some operations, helping to provide everything from food to hygiene essentials. “Even though I’m not an outreach person or social worker, I supported these positions in the background,” she says.
My family is more American than Thai.”
Sanderson became a U.S. citizen in 2004, but she has long considered Fort Wayne her home. “My family is more American than Thai,” she says. At 52, she has raised three U.S.-born children and devoted her life to helping the most vulnerable people in her community get back on their feet. “I’m helping them become independent and self- sufficient, so they can become the future contributors to our local economy,” she says.