Central Indiana Hoosiers know him best as WRTV newscaster and investigative reporter Rafael Sánchez ’92, but when the studio lights and cameras turn off he goes to work of another kind. He volunteers — a lot.
With approximately 50 calendar commitments a year, it is understandable that Sánchez calls volunteerism his main “hobby.” He does much more than make appearances. He hosts programs, conducts interviews, runs auctions, produces social media videos and dances, all to help raise awareness of issues and dollars for important causes. Volunteerism is serious business, but he works hard to bring fun to every occasion and help people feel good about their philanthropy.
“People want to be entertained and engaged. It’s why I have a whole collection of light-up shoes, blinking bow ties and colorful jackets,” Sánchez said. He refers to a suitcase on wheels as his “mobile wardrobe.”
There are limits, though.
“I don’t do anything political, no fundraising. There are strict employer guidelines about that, and by extension of being a journalist there are some things that are off the table. Sometimes, turning down an invitation can be a difficult conversation, but volunteerism is really about finding that thing you are passionate about, and that will impact the greater good,” Sánchez said.
“I focus on things that matter to me on a global scale, such as access to education, health care, domestic violence prevention and addiction recovery. So many organizations exist for the sole purpose of investing in human beings and helping them get through a process to sustain themselves; those are the ones I want to be involved in helping. It’s about helping individuals get a hand up, and get to a better place.”
Sánchez also is inclined to help organizations that host bilingual events; he speaks English and Spanish. His parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States, and he grew up in the Bronx, New York. He recalls his parents’ hardships and tenacity, and is motivated to help others achieve their American dream.
“What I appreciate about the immigrant experience is the values we all share as people who are dreaming to do better, and who work hard to get it done. Those are values we can all embrace because that helps all of our communities to succeed,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez has not always been on the giving end of philanthropy. There was a short time after his parents divorced that his family needed food stamps.
“We always had food, but mom needed extra help to make the budget, and to stretch her work dollars. I don’t remember much about the struggle, but I know what it’s like to need a helping hand,” he said. “If I can help organizations that make safety nets available to people when there’s a struggle, then I’ll be there. It’s the right thing to do.”
Along with spouse Beth (Baker) ’92, he gives philanthropic support to various nonprofits in Johnson County, where they reside. “We have a responsibility to support those who have the skillsets and are going to move the needle,” he said.
Career longevity in broadcast journalism is rare today, but Sánchez has succeeded in adapting with the ever-evolving industry. Now, embarking on his 25th year at WRTV, he humbly calls this stage of life and career the “halftime show,” insisting there is always room for improvement.
“When we graduate, we study, we work hard and we want the outcome that goes with our skillsets. The journey is long. Mine isn’t different than anyone else’s,” Sánchez said.
His resume illustrates a clearer picture, one that reflects a litany of achievements including multiple Emmy awards for journalism excellence and investigative reporting. As the co-anchor of “Good Morning Indiana” with Lauren (Casey) Bemis ’14 and the lead field anchor on breaking news and political coverage, Sánchez continues to better his career.
He credits significant career preparation to Franklin College, where he, the late José Rodriguez ’93 and Michael Schug ’92 founded the first-ever student-produced video broadcast program, “Inside Franklin.”
“I’m forever grateful for getting the chance to try. We had journalism professors who recognized there was not a vehicle for us at the time, and they were open to us going for it. They said here are some boundaries, but they really allowed us to explore and grow. That level of faculty support is distinctively FC,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez is proud to see the work Pulliam School of Journalism students continue producing today. One example is The Statehouse File, which reports nonpartisan news that media outlets across Indiana re-share on their respective platforms. Further, as a Franklin College Trustee, Sánchez has the chance to engage closely with the college community on events such as #GivetoGRIZ, the annual 24-hour fundraising challenge. His social media segments during the challenge always spark alumni engagement and laughter. Another reason he enjoys coming to campus these days is to spend time with son Antonio ’23, who also happens to be his Kappa Delta Rho fraternity brother. Daughter Sierra attends law school in New York.
Sánchez said, “Franklin College is the only board I serve. I certainly do what I can as a trustee, but when I’m in a room with the 30 others I sometimes have to sit back and take a deep breath. They’re amazing people with resumes from here to the edge of the world, and they all bring something special to the table. It allows me to take stock, and ask am I doing all the things I should be? Do I have more work to do?”
Time will tell. One thing is certain, Sánchez will be ready to suit up for whatever opportunities life brings.
POSTED May 18, 2022