Sara Sorensen moved to Cedar Rapids when she was twenty years old, as a newly-minted teacher. She shared an apartment on 3rd Street with three other young educators while she taught third grade. She was driven by an infectious love for people, and quickly became involved in various volunteer efforts. She volunteered with St. Luke’s and Mercy hospitals, the Red Cross and served as a YMCA board member. But Sara also had a passion for the creative and, although she initially had no formal training, she began dabbling in culinary arts and painting.
“I was crazy about cooking,” she recalls. “And even though I didn’t have any formal experience, I started teaching cooking classes whenever I could.” Sara also started taking art classes, and has continued painting throughout her life. “I love the freedom. I always paint with vivid colors – I guess that’s the kind of person I am.”
Today, Sara has an entire room in her home dedicated to her art. She regularly donates pieces to fundraisers for the organizations she’s connected to. Her work is often inspired by nature, but it incorporates bright colors. In talking with her about her art, it’s clear that she’s open to experimentation – she doesn’t follow any hard and fast rules.
Her philanthropy appears to follow a similar approach. Sara has given to numerous organizations, without following any particular strategy. “Every organization has some good in them,” she says.
Sara feels that she learned about the possibilities of philanthropy from her husband, Al. She explains how he became an Iowa State supporter, and one day approached her and said, “I think I’ll give Iowa State some money, and I think I’ll do it while I’m alive.” Sara enjoyed the relationships she and Al built because of their philanthropy; that joy encouraged her to pursue her own philanthropic passions. “If you have a little bit extra to give, why not?”
It wasn’t until a bit later that the Community Foundation became a part of Sara’s philanthropy. “I wanted to give to Kirkwood’s Culinary Arts program, and a friend suggested that I do that through the Community Foundation,” she recalls. “I knew Bill Quarton, and I knew that he was involved in the Community Foundation, so I decided to look into it.”
Sara established a fund at the Community Foundation in 1998, and has given to many nonprofit organizations over the years. She feels the Community Foundation is an important vehicle for her giving, least of all because of the Endow Iowa tax credit. Additionally, she feels that a strong community foundation is important for a strong community.
Sara also takes great pride in Cedar Rapids, and specifically the nonprofit sector. “I see people who say, Cedar Rapids has nothing to do. There’s nothing worthwhile here to give to. That’s nuts.” And it makes sense why she would say that. Through her giving Sara has supported funds in health and human services, the arts, and education and so she’s found meaningful causes in many different places. She encourages other to invest locally as well. “You need to invest in your community, it makes a stronger community,” she advises.