From Politics to Puppy Delivery: A Nonprofit Leader Charts an Unconventional Path

Sara Lister is President and CEO of Make-A-Wish New Mexico. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Sara Lister thinks kids are a lot more fun to be around than adults, and she should know that.

While Lister’s world was once about raising money for political candidates, she now oversees tasks like delivering puppies — and sometimes the lizard — to sick children as she works from a desk with balloons and balloons. free toys.

Lister is president and CEO of Make-A-Wish New Mexico, her dream job because she has loved children since her early days of babysitting.

“I’ve always had a passion for children, especially vulnerable children,” Lister says.

Lister’s stint in politics began working for U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, a longtime Republican from New Mexico. She also worked on President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign and started a political consulting and fundraising firm in New Mexico and Washington, DC.

However, she got exhausted and decided to take a break by temporarily moving to China to reconnect with a special-needs teenager she had met in a foster home during a previous trip to church.

“She’s one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever met,” Lister says. “She is completely blind and has been since birth. She faces an immense amount of problems, but she is very intelligent.

Upon returning home, Lister decided to use her fundraising skills and became director of development for various entities at the University of New Mexico, including the UNM Foundation and the Cancer Center.

Lister says the business skills required at Make-A-Wish are similar to her previous positions, with one big difference: the heartbreak of working with children who have a serious illness and don’t always survive.

“There are times when we really face life and death in our work, so it’s a whole other level to have a bad day at work,” Lister says. “People ask me, ‘Do you cry all the time at work?’ My answer is no.’ There’s a lot of crying here, but more often than not it’s tears of joy, not tears of sadness.

Is there a particular wish you have granted that stands out?

“There are so many. There have definitely been some where something more has happened. During the pandemic, a little boy wanted a puppy – a light colored goldendoodle. We were limited in our ability to have dogs because of the pandemic.Danielle (Rodriguez, Mission Delivery Manager) was on the phone with the Syracuse, NY chapter and they had a puppy…that was exactly what our child had asked for.Danielle s flew to New York, picked up Archie – he’s the pup – and we actually did a whole social media campaign after his trip to pick him up and bring him home. We ended up doing a parade drive for Mikey (Neidigk), who didn’t know he was getting his pup that day. Dozens and dozens of cars (were involved) and people dressed as Spider-Man because he loves Spider- Man. It was really fun to see this magic in a time when everyone he world was so isolated.

What do you do with your free time?

“I spend a lot of free time with my nephews and nieces, even though they are getting older. They don’t have as much time for me anymore. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am obsessed with my English Bulldog. Her name is Windsor, for the House of Windsor (in England), but we call her Winnie. For some reason, all my life, I’ve always wanted a bulldog. I went to Albuquerque High, and that’s the mascot, so people wonder if that’s it. But I actually think it comes from my grandmother. Her high school mascot was also a bulldog, and she had these two little bulldog figurines sitting on a shelf. When she died, I got them, so they’re in my house now. I just decided that I need to find a bulldog. They have the funniest personalities. Winnie talks constantly and she looks like Chewbacca.

Why the House of Windsor?

“I am a great Anglophile. I’ve always been fascinated by the monarchy because in my mind I should be a princess. I was probably around 4 when Charles and Diana got married, and I remember waking up in the middle of the night to watch it with my mom. And my fascination with the queen only increased with age. I’m actually going to the Jubilee (in London) in June for the (70th) anniversary of the reign. We’ll see what it will give. »

How did you get involved in politics?

“I was always really fascinated, when I was younger, by government and politics, for some reason. I met Senator Domenici when I was 12 at a Dukes baseball game, when they were still called the Dukes. What 12-year-old knows who their US senator is? But I did, and I went up to him and asked for his autograph and told him I wanted to work for him someday. He said to me: ‘When you are old enough, call and you can.’ When I went to college, my university had a program where you could intern in DC for a semester and take classes in Georgetown. So I contacted Senator Domenici’s office and became an intern for this semester. He would have told you he remembered meeting me, but he probably didn’t. He hired me when I graduated, and I went back to DC and worked for him until he retired 10 years later.

What is your most embarrassing moment?

“I have an aunt (who) worked… for the National Security Council. I was living in DC, and she invited me to come have lunch with her at the White House. It was a rainy day, so I go to the check-in gate and I have my purse with me, and I have a Christmas present for her and I have an umbrella, so I have the hands full. And I’m well dressed, because I’m going to the White House. When you go to meet someone in the west wing, you walk past where all the reporters and their cameras are, you go down that staircase. I can be clumsy. I hit one of the stairs, and you know how it feels to fall? So I tried to catch up, and I didn’t. I fell all the way down the stairs. And I mean I ran down the stairs. I’m in shock… and I hear several voices shouting at me: “Madam, are you okay? This NBC cameraman comes running up to me, then a Secret Service agent, and I’m just trying to make sure my dress is down. They help me up and I’m completely wet on half of my body. I always joke that I must be on some kind of White House blooper. I injured my elbow and had a few scratches, but it was my pride that suffered the most.

THE BASICS: Sara Lyn Lister, 45, born in San Antonio, Texas; five nieces and nephews, six godchildren; a pet, Winnie, an English bulldog; degree in political science, University of Valparaiso, 1999.

POSTS: President and CEO, Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Mexico, since 2018; Senior Director of Development, University of New Mexico Cancer Center, UNM College of Nursing, UNM Foundation, 2014-2018; Senior Vice President, Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, 2014; executive director, New Mexico Competes, 2013; Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, State Department of Workforce Solutions, 2011-2013; Senior Advisor to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, 2009-2011; partner, F/L Consulting, 2003-09; various positions on political campaigns, 2000-2008.

OTHER: member of the board of directors of the alumni association of the University of Valparaiso; Sunday School Teacher and Community Service Volunteer, Sagebrush Church.

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