January 13, 2021

Rachel Sabella '20

Striving for More: Advocating for Effective Change to Combat Childhood Hunger

Rachel Sabella 2020 Graduation.jfif
Rachel celebrating alongside her parents as part of SUNY Empire's Virtual Commencement in December 2020.

A lifelong New Yorker, Rachel Sabella is always striving for more. Growing up in Nassau County, she was surrounded by a loving family who worked in the school system, her grandmother was a cafeteria manager in New York City and her mom recently retired as a kindergarten teacher. After earning her undergraduate degree in political science, she combined both her knowledge for nonprofit grant and youth policy work with her love of education.

"Advocacy has always been at the heart of what I do,” Rachel said. “Every career path I've ever taken has always been with the goal to advance and advocate for effective policies that create lasting change.”

Right around the one-year mark of serving as director for No Kid Hungry New York, Rachel realized she needed to advance her education and pursue a master’s degree. But with a busy career that involved frequent travel, she needed a program that was flexible, one that would work around her schedule.

She knew exactly where to look: SUNY Empire State College.

Her father, Tom, a career journalist who worked as a news writer and editor for CBS News, earned his bachelor’s degree in 2008 from SUNY Empire. Tom went back to school in his 50s because earning a college degree was always a goal he wanted to achieve.

“He had such an incredible experience at SUNY Empire,” Rachel said. “The flexibility of the program allowed him to do things on his terms while working full time and raising a family. With such talented faculty in their respective fields, he really enjoyed working with and learning from all his mentors."

After enrolling in the Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy program, Rachel was able to study mostly online, with the added bonus of an on-site residency in early 2020. While the residency study was a great opportunity to meet classmates and professors in person, the online environment has been key to Rachel’s continued success, given the demands of her job. Whether she was at a conference in San Juan, or at a meeting overnight in Washington, D.C., she could submit her assignments with a simple click.

“I have always felt there was someone to reach out to, someone who really worked with each student one-on-one,” Rachel said. “My mentor, Peggy Tally, has been such an amazing supporter and a champion for me with my schoolwork and professional career. She has challenged me to think beyond the assignments.”

And then, in the middle of her coursework, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and with it, an entire shift and focus for Rachel and No Kid Hungry New York.

“My role as the director is really to advance the organization’s mission and address childhood hunger in every corner in New York state,” Rachel said. “Since COVID-19 hit last March, we have distributed more than $2.5 million across the state to community organizations and school districts to ensure they had all the tools necessary to feed kids during the pandemic.”

Through the tumultuous year that was 2020, Rachel persevered through the adversity and became a proud member of the SUNY Empire winter 2020 graduating class.

“In the Social and Public Policy program, I studied things I hadn’t studied before. Whether it’s research studies or data analysis, all of the courses allowed me to be a more effective champion for our youth. I can now be a better advocate and make New York a better place thanks to what I learned at SUNY Empire.”

Looking into 2021, the steadfast goal is simple: leave No Kid Hungry in the state of New York. Rachel and her team will continue to advocate to local and state governments for policies that address unique barriers and unprecedented levels of need brought on by this pandemic.