New Hendrix coordinator aims to meld college, community

By Tammy Keith Published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Sarah Donaghy described her new position as coordinator of community partnerships at Hendrix College in Conway as putting together beautiful pieces to create a patchwork quilt.

“I’m interested in getting Hendrix off campus more and the community on campus more,” she said.

Donaghy — pronounced Donna-hee — started her job Aug. 14 and said she is still assessing and getting the lay of the land.

“What I’m learning and seeing and kind of already knew is that Hendrix has been doing a lot, whether it’s through the Odyssey Program … or whether it’s through work in the

chaplain’s office mission and service groups, or whether it’s individual professors who have integrated community services — there are a lot of ways service has been happening. There has not been one place where it’s been coordinated.”

Now there is.

Peter Gess, Hendrix associate provost for engaged learning, said the position formalizes and strengthens the college’s focus on partnerships that contribute to career and employment possibilities for Hendrix graduates, as well as internships, community-based research, service-learning and Odyssey experiences.

“Students have the opportunity to get beyond the Hendrix wall and learn from this lived knowledge that exists out in the community, and at the same time, the community gets the benefit of certain skills and knowledge and enthusiasm and energy Hendrix students can bring,” he said.

Those relationships already exist, Gess said, but Donaghy’s new position will allow Hendrix to “take it to the next level and make it sustainable.”

The position was funded through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support diversity and inclusion initiatives at Hendrix.

“With her background that spans the private, governmental and nonprofit sectors, we’re thrilled to have Sarah heading up this effort,” Gess said.

Donaghy said she was happily working for public radio — as development director for KUAR and KLRE in Little Rock — when she saw a job opening posted on the Hendrix College website that was too good to ignore.

“In April, somebody made a donation to the radio station in honor of a professor here at Hendrix. We like to send that person a card. The address looked a little funny to me, and I was on the Hendrix

website to look up the address,” she said.

She saw Hendrix jobs were posted, and out of curiosity, she clicked on it.

“I read the job description, and I thought, ‘Whoa — this is too great. I can’t ignore this one.’”

Working in public radio was one of many jobs Donaghy had after switching her career focus from law and making a conscious decision to seek joy in everyday life.

She got a good dose of joy growing up in Montana and Italy.

“My mom is originally from Montana, and her family is there, so I was born in Montana and lived there till I was 8. I still have family there and love the mountains, the climate,” Donaghy said.

She, her brother and parents moved to Italy when she was 8, and her civilian parents taught at American schools on a military base.

“It definitely shaped my world view and defined my formative years there. I got to travel a lot; my parents took us to all the museum and cultural sites,” she said. “I got to see things most young folks don’t get to see and most people. Period. It’s gorgeous; it’s as beautiful as everyone says it is.”

Her parents moved to Jonesboro when she was in high school, and that’s where she graduated in 1995. She went to Lyon College in Batesville, where she graduated with a degree in politics and a minor in Spanish.

“I thought I was going to go to law school. Then I visited a law school, and all the students studying in the law-school library looked kind of miserable, and I didn’t want to do that. Then I didn’t have a plan. I don’t know if it was one of those light-bulb moments or what,” she said and laughed.

She joined AmeriCorps and managed a tutoring program, mainly reading, through the Office for Community Involvement at Montana State University in Bozeman.

“It was a fantastic experience, and I’m glad to have done it for a year. In my head, Montana was still home,” she said.

She realized it was a hard place to make a living, so she came back to Arkansas and enrolled in graduate school at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where she earned a master’s degree in public administration.

“I fell into it,” she said. Donaghy was trying to decide between public administration and journalism, but she would have had to take an English prerequisite to get into journalism. She could start public administration right away, and she was also offered a graduate assistantship.

She chose public administration, and within 24 hours, she was in a class.

“I knew it was the place I was supposed to be; it was exactly right,” she said, adding that she was interested in nonprofit work. “That’s just really where my heart has always been.”

Even if she’d gone to law school, she wanted to “fight for social justice,” she said.

After Donaghy graduated

from ASU, she worked for a year writing grants for a women’s shelter in Jonesboro. From there, she moved to Little Rock and worked for Heifer International for almost 10 years.

“I did a variety of things. I worked for their North America program; I worked for their foundation-relations team, which was grant writing; I worked for the education team,” she said.

“I traveled to lots of wonderful places through a program Heifer no longer has,” she said. It was a study-tour program, and she took donors and volunteers from the United States to visit Heifer projects around the world.

“My favorite, nearest to my heart, was my last study tour with Heifer, and it was to Peru. We saw some really amazing projects in action,” Donaghy said. “The group was a wonderful group of folks from all over the U.S. and even a man from England. “We just really connected,” and visited Machu Picchu, which is “literally breathtaking.”

Next, she went to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, a private grant-making, philanthropic foundation that funds programs throughout the state with a focus on poverty and education.

Among other duties, she managed consultants who evaluated the effectiveness of the grants the foundation awarded.

Donaghy spent almost a year there before she felt called in 2013 to take a radical sabbatical, or what she calls a radsab, that lasted 1 1/2 years.

“I had taken a course with a woman from St. Michael’s Episcopal in Little Rock. For lack of a better term, she called it Possibilities, and it was kind of a life-coaching thing. She asked tough questions, ‘If you knew you were going to die today, how would you spend the next year?’ I had started kind of thinking about those questions and what I wanted my life to look like.”

Donaghy also saw a YouTube video in which Roman Krznaric was talking about his book How to Find Fulfilling Work. He talked about a radical sabbatical.

“In it, he describes people who have radically shifted their professional lives. For the first time, I had several examples of yeah, people kind of do these things that seem crazy or off-track,” she said.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t crazy; it is possible. I should do this. It was a very intentional decision to explore some jobs I’d never done before, like retail work,” she said. “I had a childhood dream of running a cash register.”

Donaghy was a seasonal worker at Anthropologie in Little Rock.

“It was so satisfying hitting those [cash register] buttons, and I liked bagging things,” she said.

She also worked for a year in the gift shop at the Esse Purse Museum, which she called a “hidden gem” in downtown Little Rock.

Her other dream jobs were at Wordsworth Books in the Heights in Little Rock and substitute teaching at The Anthony School.

Donaghy satisfied her love of the outdoors by joining a couple of crews who were doing trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail, and she traveled back to Italy for a few weeks and visited the house she grew up in, among other things.

She was wildly happy. “That was really kind of my focus, to feel joy. I was very deliberate and intentional on what I did,” she said. “It was kind of scary not to have a professional steady income, but it was probably the best decision I ever made. It was exactly what I needed in my mid to late 30s.

“I think probably the lesson was, really for me, seeking joy daily and that it is possible, and also to be brave and trust my own intuition.

Donaghy also decided that she’d like to start each day listening to Morning Edition on NPR.

“I’ve listened to public radio as long as I can remember,” she said. Donaghy jumped at the chance to work for the radio stations in Little Rock.

When she came across the Hendrix job, she knew that was something she’d enjoy.

Donaghy said part of her role is helping Hendrix be in the community more, too.

“On campus, I am talking to a lot of faculty and staff and students about what they have already done, the relationships they already have in the community,” she said. “Off campus, I’m visiting with organizations and businesses, and asking, ‘Have you already been working with Hendrix folks? What can we do to support your work?’”

She said she asks if Hendrix can help the businesses, and whether they can host an intern or need volunteers.

“We’re in a fantastic central location here in Conway, and I want folks to know they are welcome on campus,” Donaghy said. “It’s helping the flow of traffic both ways.”

She said it’s an effort to help students receive a holistic experience in their education at Hendrix.

“There’s really neat stuff happening here on campus, and I want folks to feel welcome to come and enjoy what we have to offer. Likewise, I think Hendrix really has a heart and a mind for service and wants to be a resource and wants to be involved and wants to be seen beyond the campus,” Donaghy said.

“Thinking about the community in Conway and … beyond in terms of internships, students are doing pretty neat things far and wide. We have a pretty special community here, and we want to see community as wider than just our campus,” she said.

“This is a new position for Hendrix, so we are sort of paving the road, building the bridge as we go,” she said. “I can see this taking a lot of different directions.”

And her goal is to bring them together seamlessly, one piece at a time.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or

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