Sara Porter

Vice President of External Affairs
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About Sara

Hometown: Wheaton, Ill.

Education: BA, Political Science, DePaul University

Hobbies: I read a lot of anything and everything—dense things like historical non-fiction as well as mysteries, romance novels and the classics. Rosa was actually making fun of me because all of my books are stamped with “from the library of Sara Porter.” When someone borrows a book, I have to check it back in!

I cook a lot. I’m pretty good at baking deserts, but I’ve been trying to focus on eating healthy. I also do a lot of traveling, most recently—aside from my honeymoon in Hawaii—I’ve been to Argentina, Croatia, Italy, France, England, Mexico and Canada.

I also go chasing tornados with my dad. I’m not joking. Seriously. My dad and I fly into Oklahoma City and spend a week trying to predict where we can see a tornado—from a distance, obviously. You learn so much about the weather and you get to see plains regions of the country that you normally might not see, like Montana, North and South Dakota.

Who are you?

I am the Vice President of External Affairs for HSC. I have kind of a unique position and get to do a lot of different stuff. I manage relationships with corporate partners and our partnering non-profit and government organizations. On some of the projects, I do more management, like with our green cleaning and food service guides. But with Cooking up Change, I plan events and contests with our partners; I build and maintain relationships with teachers and students, and host our national events. That’s totally different from green cleaning, but the common thread is building relationships and working with our partners outside of Chicago to make these programs work.

What makes your job great?

It’s awesome because there are certain elements that stay the same, like Cooking up Change in Chicago, but I can make it better every year. Then, there’s always something new like the national contest, which is constantly growing.

Similarly, we’ve been doing the Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools for a number of years, but now we’re expanding to do a similar guide for food service. It’s a good mix of projects that I can get to know really well, but there are still opportunities to take on something new.

More than anything, I love working and traveling with these awesome high school students for Cooking up Change. Everything they do, I do. I get to tour New York City with them, and I’ve been on three private White House tours. For many of these students, it’s their first time on an airplane, their first trip to D.C. It’s nice to watch them experience that. I remember walking around DuPont Circle at night with one group, drinking coffee on the patio, visiting all the shops and restaurants. It was a beautiful night. On the way home, they all said that was their favorite part of the trip.

Keep in mind, they had met the White House chef, seen the White House garden, met Bo the first family’s dog, served their food in the congressional cafeteria—but that was their favorite part. Many of them had never done that before because their own neighborhoods are not safe enough to walk around at night.

When did you come to HSC?

I’ve been here since July 2008. I started temporarily helping to organize Cooking up Change and then was hired full-time in November 2008. Before this, I had quit my job managing three stores for a chocolate retailer to go back to school full-time. I was turning 30 and hadn’t graduated, and realized it was time to get going.

I finished by taking 16 classes in one year—and got straight As. When I first started college, my major was international relations. When I went back, I studied political science. I was always interested in history and policy. I also knew I wanted to work in the non-profit arena. I didn’t know anyone, so I figured the temporary position at HSC would be a good opportunity.

Why did you join HSC?

I had a friend who worked here part-time on charity athletics. I didn’t know that much about school food or issues that HSC addresses, but I liked that it was a local organization doing something in Chicago’s communities. It had strong community roots and was really effective. I wanted to really learn about how that works.

I’ve learned so much about research, community organizing, navigating politics. It’s easy to talk about how you hate some politician and how the government should change this or that. But that’s really abstract, compared to what actually has to happen. HSC really has a grasp of how to get things done.

Where does your motivation come from?

Personally, as someone who has struggled with good eating habits, I can see how important it is to develop good, healthy habits early. It’s a thousand times harder to do it as an adult. Plus, school is supposed to be a safe place where you go and learn, but it’s not like that for so many young people.

We’ve done a program called Through Your Lens. Students and teachers took photos of the schools for a contest to show how their school environment impacted them, either positively or negatively. The images were so powerful. Some showed brand new, gorgeous spaces, while others didn’t even have working drinking fountains.

One photo showed a gymnasium so small that it didn’t have bleachers. The caption underneath was something like, “the gym with no fans.” No one could go support their teams because the gym didn’t have anywhere for people to sit. The issues we’re working on at HSC are basic—clean air, healthy food, things that all schools should have.

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