Student Stories

An Ambassador’s Road to The White House

Sarah Funes was fifteen years old when she was asked to serve on the San Mateo County Commission on Disabilities. She recalls the moment as the wave that ignited her passion for public service. Years later, her resume now reads like a novel that champions social justice and community activism. Sarah attends University of California- Berkeley (her dream school) and co-chairs Berkeley Disabled Students’ Program. She has served as Communications Director of the Peninsula Young Democrats, Election Judge for San Mateo County office of Elections, intern for Senator Barbara Boxer’s district and Washington, DC offices, and a Vote Everywhere Ambassador for The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF). With so much fortitude and accomplishments at a young age, it’s surprising she has faced rejection after rejection while pursuing one of her lifelong dreams – interning at the White House.

Sarah recalls, “When I got  a notification to resubmit my application for the third time I told my mom, ‘This is the last time I’m applying. It’s the last year of the Obama administration. I’m probably not even going to get an interview.’“ The process was trying. She wrote 8 drafts of her resume and cover letter, requested 2 letters of recommendation, and needed to provide the admissions committee with 4 professional references but ultimately, she was waitlisted.

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Sarah’s dream of joining the military was not an option. She had hoped to join the military to serve her country and pay for college. When it was no longer feasible, she utilized her resources to find  various ways to fund her college tuition, and the White House internship program became her new dream.

At the beginning of the Fall semester, a day before classes commenced, Sarah was in the Financial Aid office when she noticed she missed two calls from an unknown number. Later that evening, she received an email inviting her to interview for the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Four weeks later, Sarah was withdrawing from classes, packing her bags for the capital, and preparing for what awaited her in the East Wing.

176 students from across the country were accepted into the White House Internship program that fall. Unlike her former internship in the Senate, Sarah quickly noticed a distinction in the work processes and culture of the two government branches. In Senator Boxer’s office, she was primarily supporting the Senator and her constituents, while in the Office of Legislative Affairs, she was supporting all Senators who contacted the office. There were very intricate rules in the White House, many of which Funes was not exposed to in the Senate. For instance, In the White House, interns are allowed to receive deliveries but not allowed to read them like in the Senate.

The East Wing houses four offices–The Office of the First Lady, the Graphics and Calligraphy Office, the White House Visitor’s Office, and the Office of Legislative Affairs. Sarah was a part of a small team of four, and her responsibilities included office management, tallying up votes for current bills, supporting senior staff members, and assisting the White House Visitor’s Office when needed and available. Mundane moments in her workdays often found her in gratitude, “I would think about the White House visitors I would see while I walked to the restroom, with open mouths, absolutely inspired, and in disbelief at where they were. I’m sure I had a very similar look on my face,” she says.

Funes credits her organizing experience as a hallmark of her ability to succeed in the internship program. She states, “I feel very connected to AGF and the grandeur mission of voter registration, education, and engagement. The organization helps young leaders identify their goals and become passionate about their life’s mission, and that helped me very much in the White House. I knew why I was there. I was reminded of it every day while walking through the gates.”

As a second-generation Latina with a disability, Sarah is consistently fighting to level the playing field. There aren’t many elected officials who look like her or who have to think about the intersectionality of identities. She says, “That’s what carried me to the White House. When I think about my life, I think about what I wanted to see in a person when I was a younger.“ She now aspires to start a program where she can mobilize youth in her community to think about public service. The program will encourage kids to ponder what role each of them play in the local, state, and federal process. She also remains steadfast about increasing voter turnout on and off campus. She continues, “You need to have dedication and resiliency. This work made it so easy for me to not lose faith in our system. I love myself and this country enough to fight for it.”

About the Author

Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Officer Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.