A Role Model With a Mission. “I love working in ministries. It is incredible,” says the enthusiastic Sara Alonzo, a role model for those young
women who would like to work in the nonprofit community or in a faith-based organization. “Seeing lives change” is a powerful motivator for Sara, who learned about giving early in life and honed her heartfelt skills in undergraduate studies and also in professional environments. Feeling, as she does, that giving to the poor is a commitment she will always have, Sara passes her passion on to others. Growing up in a household where there was not much in the way of material resources never felt like an impoverished situation for the young woman who is our role model in this issue of DENVER WOMAN. In fact, she felt at the time, and still feels, blessed to have parents who took children in and fostered them, in spite of a lack of financial largesse. “My dad was always giving and passed to me the value of giving to the poor,” Sara says today. “When I compared myself to other kids, I never felt that I was lacking. Growing up poor definitely instilled values in me,” she adds.
Sara has taken the lessons of helping others that she learned at home in Alamosa and applied them to her work in a nonprofit setting, where she dedicates her time and considerable energy to making a difference in the lives of others. “I’m passionate about telling kids they do have an opportunity to go to school and do whatever they want to do,” she says. Her words ring true, as Sara has made a mark at the development office for the Denver Rescue Mission. Denver Rescue Mission describes its mission this way: To meet people at their physical and spiritual points of need, providing food, shelter and clothing, along with practical programs of education, Christian teaching and work discipline with the aim of returning the poor, needy and homeless to society as self-sufficient, productive citizens. Sara’s passionate belief about young people having the opportunity to make a life they want is only one of the many ways that she makes a difference. She also raises funds for the Denver Rescue Mission and has made her work there translate to increased donations to the nonprofit.
Sara began her higher education in Greeley and then transferred to Metro State in Denver. She studied event planning/ hospitality and had the idea she would one day be doing events for charities, but learned she didn’t enjoy event planning. “I knew I wanted to do charity work, but I knew I wanted to give back,” she says. In college, she was a member of a student chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). Sara AlonzoSara was attending a church, and some friends told her about the New Life program, a rehabilitation program for men living at The Crossing, a residential facility operated by The Denver Rescue Mission. At that point in her life, she was waiting tables, finishing school and had lined up a job at the Mission making phone calls. It was the spring of 2005, and she had been in the position for five weeks when another employee in the department left, and she began running the department.
She continued to attend school and began her senior research internship while working at the Mission, where she had been for one year. The last year of college she changed her major to nonprofit administration and refers to it as “a great experience for me to get hands-on practical experience while finishing college.” While making cultivation calls at the Denver Rescue Mission, Sara started to see that people were making gifts in response to her calls. She was asked to build a budget in the donor relations area. She did so, and things began to happen for her. The budget was $150,000, and she raised $390,000 the first year. In the spring of last year, she was tapped to step in and handle major gifts as the development officer. Today, Sara’s title is development officer for the Denver Rescue Mission. She cultivates relationships on a major gift level. This has been her job since May 2007. Prior to taking this position, she had grown the donor base from 400 names to 1,200, and she transferred these donors into her new role. Proud of her work but also gratified that she has the opportunity to do it, she says, “I’m 25 and just starting my career.”
Modest about her accomplishments, Sara has difficulty believing she is a role model but does understand that “young girls may relate to me because of my past. I came from Alamosa, an economically depressed area. My heart to the poor started here. Coming from an area where poor were, it was not an issue of segregation. People are overlooked and don’t have health care, roofs over their heads, food and so on.” As she studied at the college level, Sara realized other students’ parents financially assisted them, a situation that did not describe her life. Her parents did not tell her she had to go to college. They were encouraging and told her they wanted her to do what she felt drawn to do. She attended college, as did her brother, who became a teacher. She uses her own experiences to mentor other young women. “I am passionate about telling kids they do have an opportunity to go to school and to do whatever they want to do,” she says. She mentors a high school girl: “I met her through the youth group, so we do talk about Christianity and how to be a lady. The people she hangs out with are not getting messages (that are appropriate). The music she listens to gives wrong messages about boys, about drugs. Her family is very broken, and she tells me a lot about that.”
Sara feels the girl is listening to her, and she is encouraging her to think about the future. Sara’s role modeling has also translated to the media. She was the subject of a commercial filmed for Metro State. The message she offered in the commercial was “I got my degree at Metro, and it’s helping me make a difference.”
Sara hopes to mentor other young people at the Denver Rescue Mission. Calling mentorship at the Mission “a huge success,” she says that even people they’ve put into permanent housing are being mentored. “We are mentoring them with their families,” she comments. Having worked with mentors in her own life, Sara says her best friend’s mom is a nonprofit guru in Alamosa and adds, “This person was an influence in my life. A few teachers in college really encouraged me a lot.” Today, she credits her boss at the Rescue Mission with being a mentor. Sara also has a professional mentor, explaining, “Because of my age, it’s hard to be in the field I’m in with people who are several years my senior.” Questions such as “What associations should I be in?” are raised with her mentor, who is in the fund-raising field and who challenges her to forward-think. Thrilled to be doing what she’s doing, Sara says, “The lifestyle I live of giving back is so fulfilling and makes me a happy person. When friends get together to complain about their work, I say that I’m happy and that I love to go to work everyday and make long-lasting friendships with those around me.”
When not working, Sara enjoys food and fellowship. She loves the arts, music, hanging out with friends, riding her bike and hiking. “Hiking and biking are my two loves,” she says. She also enjoys visiting and exploring other urban areas, adding, “I like the diversity of cities; I like the East Coast.” Sara says that when she was in New York, she took a picture of kids from various ethnicities. She represents several ethnic backgrounds, too, including Italian, Irish, Mexican and a little Cherokee. “Growing up, one of my best friends was Jewish, one was Spanish. Even now, my friends reflect a diversity, both economically and culturally,” she says.
Sara says she doesn’t ever see herself working in a corporate setting. “I see myself being in ministry. I would like to help people with grassroots organizations, particularly in fund raising, moving donors from initial giving to being major donors,” she says. She would like to change lives, save lives — maybe even internationally.
Sara says she is single and available: “I enjoy being single. I have flexibility.” For this very happy and fulfilled young woman, life is good.
Written by SHARON ALMIRALL
Photography by KIT WILLIAMS