12 Sep, 2023
September 12, 2023
Written by Rhonnel Sotelo, Chief Executive Officer
Building a talented, cohesive team and unleashing them with the flexibility and freedom to own and lead their work is one of the Rogers Family Foundation’s core values. Throughout the remainder of our timeline, we will share our appreciations and reflections on the distinct qualities, accomplishments, and contributions of each Rogers Family Foundation team member. This piece celebrates Sara Levine who joined the Foundation in 2016.
When I speak with friends, family members, and colleagues about the end of the Rogers Family Foundation (RFF) timeline, the most interesting question I get asked is: what makes this team the best with whom you’ve ever worked? My reply flows freely. Their greatness springs from their synergy. They have the collective capacity to know each other’s work deeply. The success of one brings joy to all. Their passion matches their talent. They are connected.
When it comes to connecting– to being the bridge among people and ideas– no one does it better than Senior Program Officer Sara Levine. She invests in acutely understanding the skills, knowledge, and expertise of her RFF teammates, as well as colleagues in the field, so that she can match them with the needs of grantees. “It never ceases to amaze me how connected Sara is to her grantees,” reflects Jenna Stauffer, RFF’s Entrepreneur in Residence. “She always has a pulse on how they are doing and what they need. She goes above and beyond to serve them.” When a grantee partner expresses a need for data analytics, graphic design, strategic communications, Salesforce administration, a new funding partner, development support, strategic planning, or the preparation of a grant application, Sara stands ready to issue introductions, research alternative options, or deliver the service herself.
Over the past seven years, Sara has grown into an exceptional grantmaker. She’s mastered the essentials: detailed due diligence, rigorous financial reviews, writing persuasive grant recommendations, engaging with the Board at its meetings, and everything in between. Sara’s toolbox also includes the unwavering commitment of a fierce advocate for students and families, the power of a succinct and compelling writer, and the abilities of a skilled and empathetic facilitator who regularly convenes community members, parent groups, and grantee partners. Her colleagues value her for her strategic thinking and honest, transparent advice. “Sara tells it like it is,” says Deputy Director Dana Wellhausen. “She is not afraid to ask the tough questions or have the hard conversations. I often seek her advice when I am stuck and need some real and critical feedback to push my thinking or shift my perspective.”
Her authenticity, integrity, and ability to build and hold trusting relationships sets her apart. In a role defined by the quality of relationships built, Sara is an unparalleled relationship builder. It’s one thing to hear and see grantees; it’s another to altogether feel them and find resonance. “Sara supported me from the very beginning. She threw herself into our work. She put in a lot of time building and gaining trust,” declares Dr. Sabrina Moore, founder of 3Ls: The Academy. “Look at us. Black woman, white woman…this is such a different level of trust building. In one of our initial conversations, I watched Sara as she thought deeply about what it means to be a co-conspirator. She paused and recognized where she sits in this world, understanding her own power and privilege. She fully meant it when she told me to push back. She allows me to be me.”
In June 2023, Sara completed her final set of RFF grants to long-time grantee partners. These grants focus on building capacity within individuals and across school systems to ultimately improve the conditions for Oakland students to access and receive a high-quality public education. She has left her mark by weaving a tapestry of interconnected organizations that will drive early literacy, excellent teaching, and quality schools for years to come. It has been an honor to watch Sara grow and define the benchmark for what it means to be an outstanding grantmaker.