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The Champion

By Michael Cervin | Photos by Darren Lovecchio

When Sara Rianda was 15 years old, she wanted to do volunteer work but was told she had to be at least 15 and a half. That didn’t stop her. Rather than wait six months, she secured a volunteer position as a lifeguard. It was at this time that Rianda realized that if she was creative, she could find a way to fulfill her dreams.

Growing up in Hollister—her father’s side of the family goes back several generations—Rianda was always active, always outdoors, always moving. Though she was academically driven in school, doodled constantly on her paperwork in high school, and took an art class. There, she discovered, as an artist, her defining medium: charcoal. “My mind got to run free,” says Rianda, and she began sketching faces freehand because of the stories their expressions held.

She went on to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) San Luis Obispo, where she majored in business, focusing on finance. “I’ve always had a thing for the complexity of mathematics,” she says. “I loved every minute of it.” Keeping on the move, she took a job in San Francisco with BlackRock, an asset management firm. During her time in San Francisco, Rianda remained engaged with the community back at Cal Poly, where she served, and still serves, on the advisory board for Women in Business, which helps provide a framework for women and their future successes during and after college. “For me, the ability to give back—be that finance, or something educationally or artistically related—is very rewarding,” she says. “It’s really about encouraging the confidence of women with career choices and challenges they will face.” While in San Francisco, she wanted to get involved with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, but no slots were available.

After three years at BlackRock, she returned to San Luis Obispo, to discover a tri-county chapter of Make-A-Wish. Ecstatically, she took the training, and now she is actively involved as a wish granter. Moreover, she joined Jack’s Helping Hand in San Luis Obispo. The organization provides assistance and unique programs for children with cancer and special needs. “I’ve always had a desire to help and support kids.” says Rianda. She continues with that theme, as she currently works with a small family-owned business that helps companies set up 401(k) plans for their employees. She sees it as a way to help people maximize their future.

Her time back in San Luis Obispo also allowed her to return with more ferocity to her artistic side and to charcoal drawings. “I like the raw intensity, the dirtiness of it,” she says of using her charcoal-covered fingers to create shading on the canvas. Though black-and-white renderings may seem relatively simple, charcoal smudges easily and must be handled deftly to pull out detailed hues and shades. She hopes to use her artwork as an additional fundraising tool to increase her volunteer work.

There are similarities between the seeming disparate worlds of finance and art. “With finance, it’s the complexity, it’s finding the exact solution, it’s the detail.” Artwork, too, is always detailoriented. “[Charcoal is] not forgiving,” she says, “You can’t make any mistakes. It has to be right and thought out in advance.” And regardless of finance, art, and volunteer work, Rianda has carved out time to improve other of her facets. Currently, she’s learning fly-fishing and the guitar. “Everybody has something to offer,” she says. “I can champion anyone.”


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