Alumna Sarah Sanchez ’17 Helps Make History During the Pandemic

Relational communications alumna Sarah Sanchez ’17 has always wanted to help people. She just never thought that doing so would also mean contributing to a moment in history as she helps distribute COVID-19 relief funds in the Arizona Governor’s Office.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

July 21, 2020 | 10:30 a.m.

Relational communications alumna Sarah Sanchez ’17 has always wanted to help people.

Relational communications alumna Sarah Sanchez ’17 has always wanted to help people.

“I didn’t know you’d be asking such hard questions!” Sarah Sanchez ’17 laughs when we ask her what she does for a living. The relational communications alumna says her title slowly: “I am a program manager with the Economic Recovery Management team with the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting in the Arizona Governor’s Office.”

She smiles and waits to answer the inevitable clarifying questions. 

In summary, Sanchez works for the government, specifically on a task force that’s involved with a number of programs created to support the state of Arizona in the midst of COVID-19. She works with the AZCares Fund—a program that helps distribute funds to the state’s local governments for public health and public safety payroll expenses during the pandemic. With that, she also works in the Arizona Express Pay Program, which helps ease the application process so organizations can receive FEMA public assistance funds as soon as possible. She also assists in the AZ Stay Connected Program, which provides long-term care facilities with resources to enhance and expand virtual visitations and engagement between residents and their families. And those are just a few of the programs the state has recently initiated to support Arizona residents.

“I’m excited to see—regarding the coronavirus relief funds—how this all transpires and what it becomes and how I’ll look back at it and say, ‘I was a part of that for the state of Arizona. That moment in time, that history that was made—I participated in it.’”

— Sarah Sanchez ’17

If you rewind five years, Sanchez was preparing to travel across the country—from her native state of Arizona to Minnesota—with plans to transfer from a community college in Phoenix to Bethel as an environmental studies major. The transition was difficult, since Sanchez was so close to her immediate and extended family. Even as adults, her family lived in close proximity to each other, went to the same church, and had the same circle of friends. They did everything together, and it was hard to establish a new support system in a new state.

However, Sanchez would be the first person to admit that she wouldn’t trade her Bethel experience for anything. “There are so many aspects of Bethel that impacted me and really helped me get where I’m at now,” Sanchez says. “I think if I didn’t go to Bethel, I don’t think I would have finished college. I think I would’ve just been content where I was at. The people at Bethel helped me be accountable, and my friends convinced me to stay.”

Sanchez’s favorite Bethel memory happens to be her first Bethel memory: Welcome Week. She had to say goodbye to her family at the Phoenix airport, and she had no idea what a traditional college experience was like. She felt that God was leading her across the country and knew her family supported her, but she was still nervous and knew her introverted nature may have made it difficult to make friends—especially as a transfer student. “I was afraid everyone else would be friends already,” Sanchez says. During her first Welcome Week activity, she realized her group was specifically for transfer students. “I’m glad Bethel gave me the opportunity to connect with people who were transferring. It was easy for me to build those friendships because we could relate on the same level automatically.”

Sanchez was especially impressed with how welcoming the Bethel community was, from the mass of people excited to unload her car to her roommate, who invited her to go to the Minnesota State Fair with her family. “People were so welcoming. I don’t know if that’s a Midwest thing or what,” Sanchez laughs. “My life in Phoenix is so family-oriented, and I am grateful that people at Bethel shared their families with me.” Most of the friends she made during Welcome Week stayed her friends throughout college, and even today, two of those friends will be bridesmaids in her wedding.

Sarah Sanchez '17 and some of her siblings, nieces, and nephews when they visited Disneyland in 2019.

Sarah Sanchez '17 and some of her siblings, nieces, and nephews when they visited Disneyland in 2019.

Her time at Bethel gave her lifelong friends, formed her identity as an individual, strengthened her faith, and prepared her for government work. Sanchez’s first position was as a grants manager for the Volkswagen Settlement Fund. She reviewed school districts’ applications for new school buses and distributed them accordingly. After her first month in the position, Sanchez was asked to conduct training sessions to help school districts apply for the grant. Because she took advanced public speaking as a communications major, she knew this was not only something she could do, but prove herself while doing it. “I felt like in all of my communications classes, we had to give speeches and presentations, so that for me was natural,” Sanchez says. “That was easy, and I felt like that was the first thing to prove to my boss that he picked the right person for this.”

She continues to work as a grants manager along with her new position in the Governor’s Office, and while her work is often tedious and under a lot of pressure, she finds great fulfilment in noticing how grants impact every area of someone’s life. While attending her nephew’s cross country meets, she knew that an opposing school district might not have gotten there without receiving a grant she had approved. Sanchez also enjoyed visiting the Navajo Reservation to talk with their transportation directors. She heard first-hand how much the updated buses would serve their community. She understood she was making a difference when she realized that families would have peace of mind knowing their children would be safe traveling to school. “It’s different when you’re looking at a grant agreement to when you’re actually looking at something tangible. All my work was for something,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez measures her work not by how much she can accomplish, but how she can help other people. By majoring in relational communications, she thought she’d be able to help people on an individual level and pictured becoming a counselor or something personal. Right now, she’s helping the whole state of Arizona, trusting that the funds she’s distributing are supporting people particularly affected by COVID-19.

“We’re giving local governments funding for public safety, but then that opens up different possibilities that the local governments to use to help their communities,” Sanchez says. “In a way, grants impact everything that we do. And, to me, that’s what I find most rewarding about it. It impacts a lot. It impacts my community. It impacts the state of Arizona.”

Sarah Sanchez '17 and part of her extended family at their annual church summer camp.

Sarah Sanchez '17 and part of her extended family at their annual church summer camp.

Study Relational Communication at Bethel

This emphasis covers interpersonal, small group, intercultural, and international communication by helping students develop the ability to persuade, initiate, and maintain relationships, communicate nonverbally, listen, build empathy and trust, and manage conflict. All of these are critical to effective leadership, training, and service.

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