Loran Smith: Sarah McKinney has an enlarged heart.

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Loran Smith: Sarah McKinney has an enlarged heart.

Sarah McKinney

(Dr. Gary Bertsch, retired UGA professor, commented in a recent column about the importance of community and local involvement in creating a better country and world.  “Making our communities better makes for a better world.”  The following is the second of a two-part series about two individuals in Athens who are making a difference in that regard.)





Sarah McKinney has an enlarged heart.  

Before going any further, be comforted that her big heart is not a medical liability but an asset for her community.  It takes a big heart to contain her multiple interests, generous giving, uninhibited volunteering, and varied philanthropies.

While she is President and CEO of the Athens Area Community Foundation—which would be a full-time job for most—she still finds time for her family, church, the East Jackson Comprehensive High School FFA Alumni program, and much more.  She is a member of the Athens Rotary Club and a member of the Leadership Georgia Class of 2019.   She wants no stray dog to go unpetted and no kid to go to bed hungry.





She greets everybody with a generous and warm smile.  For her smile to be any wider, surgery would be required.  She has a helping hand mentality that has brought dividends to her beloved community.  For Sarah, Athens is not just a great place to live; its stimulating environment and its cultural influence give it an unsurpassed rank.

Sarah grew up with Stone Mountain in her everyday view (she could walk to the laser show) with diverse interests. For example, she was good at softball and the violin.   She has the personality of her mother, Ann, and the work ethic of her father, Steve.   She is both industrious and enterprising, which makes her singular at making do while visualizing a better and more productive way in her work.

She is into mentoring, and when she moves about accommodating her activities, she drives an old Jeep.   She and her family (husband John and kids, Nathan, 18, and Anna, 15) are exhilarated by camping out.  The camper has space for the family and three dogs.  You can’t be a humanitarian and not love animals, which is why the family compound includes three sheep.  It only makes sense, given her background and lifestyle, that there are no black sheep on the premises.

Even with her busy routine, it is not surprising that she is very much at home in the kitchen where her signature dish is cube steak and creamed potatoes, which she brings to perfection, accompanied by a gin and tonic.   You cannot be more well-rounded than Sarah McKinney, who is keen on “wogging,” i.e. exercising by walking and jogging.

Venture into her past and you find that she has an abundance of selfless motivation.  While in college, she was introduced to the Athens Community Council on Aging, interned with the council, and later joined the staff.  Then she became the Director of Development for the Georgia 4-H Foundation for 15 years.      

While her education at the University of Georgia with a degree in social work was a perfect fit for her, she is an advocate of continuing education with certificates earned from Kennesaw State (Gerontology), the University of Dayton (Leadership), and Duquesne (Basic and Advanced Nonprofit Financial Management).

Today her role with the Athens Area Community Foundation is “centered on helping convene the interest of donors, nonprofits, and community institutions to build, distribute, and preserve philanthropic assets that will enhance the quality of life in the Athens area for generations to come.”

She is proud of her alma mater, which has been generously supportive of the community.  Working with UGA Athletic Director Josh Brooks, the “Dawgs for Pups,” initiative last year ensured that every home in Athens was the beneficiary of Internet access during the COVID period.  

With Sarah’s energy and leadership, countless individuals, foundations, and businesses are investing in families and programs in Athens-Clarke, including:

  • Getting young people involved with positive programs such as 4-H, FFA, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Athens YMCA.
  • Funding renewable scholarships to help the disadvantaged continue their education and become productive citizens.
  • Affordable housing.
  • Childcare (including mentoring).
  • Healthcare (including mental health).

    A defining moment took place years ago when she was a young girl.  It continues to resonate with her.  Stone Mountain, at one point, allowed the Ku Klux Klan to march through town.  One day, traffic from the parade, caused her mother to turn onto a side street for unimpeded access.

They came to an intersection and saw a black woman crying.  Her mother asked the woman to get into her car, consoling her with encouragement.  “You stay with us and we will see that you will be okay.”

That is another pleasure point in Sarah McKinney’s life. Those with whom she works are bent toward being inclusive in the community.  Nobody sets a better example in that regard than Sarah McKinney.





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