Sandy Vargas. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Foundation.

Latina Leadership

First ever Honoring Latina Leadership event to be held in Minneapolis September 30

By Brian Martucci
Thursday, September 8, 2016

Casa de Esperanza, an anti-violence organization with deep ties to the Twin Cities Latino/a community, is hosting its first-ever Honoring Latina Leadership gala at the Minneapolis Event Center on September 30.

The event will be hosted by Teresa Rodriguez, co-host of Univision’s “Aqui y Ahora”, and will feature former Minneapolis Foundation president and CEO Sandra L. Vargas as the main honoree.

“Casa de Esperanza decided to put on a new kind of event that highlights the contributions of Latinas in our community,” says Vargas.

Vargas, whose family settled in Minneapolis nearly 100 years ago and has lived in the area ever since, is an appropriate guest of honor. Whatever it lacked in means, her family made up in its devotion to the next generation. (Vargas is the eldest of eight children.)

“The women in my family had a vision for a better life for their children,” says Vargas.

Vargas certainly followed through: she went to college, worked her way up the ladder as a public servant at DEED, the Department of Transportation and other state agencies, and eventually attended graduate school at Harvard on a Bush fellowship. When she returned from the East Coast, she became deputy county administrator for Hennepin County, then county administrator, taking responsibility for “everything from criminal justice to roads to libraries,” she says.

Earning a perch in the top ranks of a sprawling government administration is a career capstone for most public servants, but when the opportunity to helm the venerable Minneapolis Foundation came up, Vargas jumped.

“Going from an organization with thousands of employees and a $2 billion budget to an organization with a few dozen employees was interesting, to say the least,” says Vargas. “But I loved being involved with the power of philanthropy, seeing up close how it can change communities for the better.”

Already a longtime Minneapolis Foundation board member, Vargas set about raising the “under the radar” organization’s profile and strengthening relationships with its donor base. She retired earlier this year, confident that the foundation was in capable hands and content to look back on an illustrious career.

“I feel blessed that I’ve been able to have a great career in a community that I truly love,” she says.

What’s next for Vargas? Following Latina Leadership 2016, she’ll spend time with her family, then take an extended trip overseas. After that, who knows — she’s technically retired, but not quite ready to call it quits.

“Retirement to me means doing what you have a passion for and reinventing yourself,” she says.

Join Vargas, Casa de Esperanza, and their supporters at the Minneapolis Event Center on September 30 from 6 to 10 pm. Tickets are available here.