Northern Scottsdale resident Sarah Hughner, a member of the Chaparral High School Class of 2019, will soon be flying across the country to Ithaca, New York, to attend Cornell University in the fall.
But in the meantime, she will spend her summer doing what she does best: giving back to her community.
Hughner was one of five Valley teens selected for Bank of America’s Student Leaders program, a philanthropic program that offers young people an opportunity to build their workforce and leadership skills and the ability to help improve their communities through a paid summer internship at a local nonprofit.
The Student Leaders will work at Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley and Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale this summer.
Metro Phoenix club CEO Marcia Mintz said this is the 15th year Student Leaders have worked at various clubs over the summer.
“Each year, we continue to be impressed with the caliber of student selected by the bank to participate,” Mintz said.
“Our team works hard to give these interns a hands-on education in what it takes to run a large nonprofit, but on the flip side, we also look forward to learning from the Student Leaders, who bring such enthusiasm and fresh perspective to our clubs each summer,” she added.
Hughner is currently working at the Scottsdale club.
She said she received the program acceptance email while participating in Arizona Music Educators Association’s High School All-State Orchestra festival.
She plays the violin.
“Being selected for the Bank of America Student Leaders program is such an honor,” Hughner told the Progress. “Already, I have learned so much from my peers and from the kids themselves. It’s a great way to develop my leadership skills and also learn more about what it really takes to run a nonprofit.”
The paid summer internship began at the start of June and continues through the summer.
So far, Hughner has received an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at Bank of America’s operations and has worked as a camp counselor.
“Every week, I am responsible for developing an engaging activity for the campers,” she explained. “So, BGCS has a theme — or fun focus — for each week; think superhero, zombies [and] time travel.”
Hughner is also responsible for developing and running an activity related to the core focus, as well as the fun theme, each week.
Additionally, she shadows a BGCS department once a week to learn how that respective department’s work supports the Club.
“The perspective I have gained from working with the kids to viewing the behind-the-scenes administrative details is remarkable,” Hughner said.
Hughner said she hopes to walk away from the internship with a deeper understanding of how nonprofits function on both a local and national level.
“We recognize that building workforce skills early can help prepare a young person for long-term success,” said Bank of America Arizona President Benito Almanza in a prepared statement. “Investing in youth and young adults is part of our broader commitment to connect people to the training and jobs needed for success, ultimately strengthening our community.”
Following the Student Leaders program, Hughner will head to Washington, D.C. for Bank of America’s annual leadership summit July 8-13.
Nearly 300 other young people from across the country will attend the summit to build advocacy and inclusive leadership skills and develop a peer network.
Other items on the agenda include discussing civil rights and the value of cross-sector partnerships.
They will also meet with members of Congress and participate in a service learning project at the American Red Cross.
“I look forward to the Leadership Summit because I am interested to understand how to advocate for my local community on a national level and to understand how government plays a role in the success of nonprofits,” Hughner said.
In the fall, Hughner tentatively plans to pursue a public health-related degree at Cornell University.
“There are so many injustices in our communities today, locally and nationally. Although I do not know for sure what path I’d like to take in the future, I know that it will be one aimed at helping marginalized segments,” Hughner said.
Hughner spent her high school years working with and helping people in need.
While at Chaparral, she served as vice president of social action for her synagogue’s teen youth group.
Hughner also formed the Helping Refugee Teens, HeART, organization after witnessing the social and economic difficulties faced by refugee teens in the Valley.
She’s most proud, however, of Food U Need Day, or F.U.N. Day, a healthy food carnival she organized in 2017 and 2018.
Hughner said the purpose of the carnival was to educate underserved and disadvantaged families about the importance and ease of nutritional eating and healthy lifestyle choices.
“Education is the first step in helping people live healthier lives,” she said.
The grant Hughner received for the event helped feed the hungry, provide nutrition education and help children in need.
“I’m proud of the two F.U.N. Days that I organized for a couple of reasons. First, things don’t change on their own. If we want our communities to live healthier lives, then it’s up to us to make the effort to enact change,” she said.
Hughner added: “Second, and the reason that it was so meaningful to me: I felt I made a difference in people’s lives. We sent people home with bags of healthy food, smiles on their faces and validation that they matter, that every person who donated food and volunteered their time cared.”
Hughner volunteered not because she needed to fill a school requirement, but because she deeply cares.
“I consider myself extremely fortunate,” she said. “I am lucky that I have never worried about having enough food to eat or a place to sleep. I’ve never had to worry about parents who are unstable or coming home to an unsafe neighborhood. What if I wasn’t so lucky? Would there be someone to help me? Would there be someone to care? I hope there would be. That’s why I volunteer.”
Hughner said it’s important to give back to one’s community because “communities can only prosper when everyone has an equal chance.”
“It is important to give back to our community because well-functioning communities are marked by humanity,” she said. “Volunteering helps level the playing field and moves communities toward equality.”