Major Donor Spotlight: Milla Sanes


This January, it is our honor to highlight major donor and SMYAL Board Member, Milla Sanes.

In addition to serving on the SMYAL Board of Directors, Milla is a dedicated member of the Young Donors Committee. The YDC is a group of volunteer leaders and donors who engage people in their 20’s and 30’s to raise awareness and critical funds for SMYAL. The YDC hosts signature events, including SMYAL for the New Year, and serves as the driving force behind the SMYAL Allies monthly giving program.


What brought you to SMYAL?

The thing that first brought me to SMYAL, actually started before I even got to DC. When I was living in Washington state, I volunteered with a homeless shelter that served youth in Seattle. As I was getting ready to move across the country, I asked them if they knew of any organizations I should get involved with in DC, and they recommended SMYAL. This was years before SMYAL opened the Youth Housing Program, so when the first house opened in 2017, it feels like some of that initial journey has since come full circle. It’s also remarkable to think about how SMYAL as a local organization was well-known nationally.

What about the organization inspired you to get involved at a deeper level as a donor, a member of various committees, and now as a Board Member?

I first got involved as a donor and volunteer in 2012. I knew Julia Saladino, one of the founding members of the Young Donors Committee, from outside of SMYAL. She asked if I wanted to get involved, and it seemed like a great way to give back. 

It’s now been 9  years since I first got involved with SMYAL. I always knew that I wanted to on the board of a non-profit. My day job is as an auditor focusing on reviewing governance, and I’m also a CPA, so I knew I had skills that I could lend to a board. SMYAL has a special place in my heart, wanted to give back further, so when I was invited to joining the Board of Directors, I thought this would be the perfect next step where I could lend my expertise.

You’ve been a long-time member of SMYAL’s Young Donors Committee and began serving as Chair of the Committee this year. Can you speak to the importance of SMYAL Allies (monthly recurring donors) and the Young Donors Committee?

One of the things that is so critical to the mission of the Young Donors Committee, is that we are introducing young people in their 20s and 30s to the idea of philanthropy and giving back in their own community. At the same time, we’re also introducing them to an organization that they may not know about that is serving LGBTQ youth in their own backyard.

Through our outreach efforts, we’re reaching a broader group of people who can become life-long advocates of DC-area queer youth.

From my perspective as an accounting nerd and doing a lot of work with development, I know how critical monthly donations are to an organization like SMYAL. Even if you can only donate $5 a month, that money truly makes a much bigger impact for an organization of SMYAL’s size. Recurring donations help you stay involved and continue to support the causes you love, especially during a time like this. As a donor, you know that your money is really being put to work.

What are some of your favorite things about events hosted by the YDC?

The variety has been really interesting. It’s been cool to see how the events have ebbed and flowed along with the makeup of the YDC. We’ve hosted everything from formal events on law office rooftops to game nights or events in cool art galleries. 

Whenever I think about our events, being able to hear from youth and staff really helps people understand the work they’re supporting better, but I also can’t stress enough just how much fun they’ve been. The YDC brings together a group of really diverse and fun people that know how to have a good time with one another.

We know that you love to cook. Are there any recipes that have been a go-to this year or any new ones you were excited to try?

Most of the year I have a pretty restricted diet due to allergies. But there are days where I want to indulge in things that maybe I’m allergic too. Like tres leches cake, who doesn’t love a cake soaked in some extra deliciousness. I also always love a good steak and bourbon. There’s something about a good bourbon and a good steak that makes you feel like you can handle anything that comes your way. It’s not just comfort food, it’s power food.

How are you staying connected to community and the causes that matter to you through COVID-19?

Pretty early on in the pandemic, I moved in with friends. Turns out, I’m not cut out to do quarantine without my community. Then given the events and tone of the summer, I have re-committed to the anti-racism work I was doing. I have been working with my firm, PWC, to allocate funds to organizations that address racism and other structural injustices, particularly ones that are looking at the intersectionality of race, sexuality, and gender.

Join Milla in supporting SMYAL’s work to change the landscape for LGBTQ youth by joining, renewing, or upgrading your major donor membership.