Creating an Engaged Community with Sara Quist from Cigna

changemakers- sara quist cigna

We had an amazing time talking with Sara Quist about her inspiring work as Community Engagement Lead at Cigna on the latest episode of our podcast!  Listen below or where you listen to podcasts. 

Cigna is a health insurance company that aims to improve the health, well-being, and peace of mind of those they serve by making health care both convenient and affordable. 

How it All Began 

Reflecting back on the first eighteen years of her career, Sara realized that she was always seeking ways to differentiate the different brands that she worked with by the way in which they made an impact on our society. Sara expressed that she loves being at a place where there is work to be done aligning to a mission statement. To Sara, Cigna is that place! 

Sara’s journey at Cigna started three years ago when Cigna saw the need to grow a deeper relationship with the local community. Thus, Sara joined the company in a newly created role where she would work to increase employee community engagement and bridge Cigna’s mission of ensuring top quality healthcare to members of our society. 

Starting her new role as Cigna’s first ever Community Engagement Lead was not an easy task. 

As the first of her role, Sara had to start from scratch. There was no previous work or projects Sara could use as a reference to inspire and guide her own projects. Despite this, Sara was still motivated and developed her own approaches to initiating change in Cigna. Sara’s approach to starting her projects revolves around two main ideas:

  1. Observe the landscape: think about Cigna’s mission and narrow in on their focus
  2. Take measured steps: Sara stressed the importance of thinking about what is possible vs what is feasible from a financial and human capital perspective. 

Sara believes that understanding these two ideas will spark a true and honest conversation about what it is that she is trying to achieve. 

Stepping into her role, Sara saw that employees before her were eager to volunteer and wanted more opportunities to do so. She recognized that while people have the desire to volunteer and contribute to our community, most are occupied with full time jobs. With this in mind, Sara tries to make volunteering at Cigna happen in an easy and convenient way so that anyone can participate. With Sara on board, Cigna has seen an increase of 193% in employee volunteerism over the past few years.


Hope Lodge

When it comes to volunteering, Sara shares that a team favorite at Cigna is cooking lunch or dinner for cancer patients who are receiving treatment at a hospital in Boston at Hope Lodge. Cigna employees would come to Hope Lodge with food, cook the meal, serve it, and chat with the patients, giving them encouragement.


Cigna in Vermont 

A fun and meaningful memory of Sara’s happened last summer when Sara and her team went up to Vermont to harvest food at a farm. She was awed by the beautiful hills of Vermont and had participated in an amazing program with Vermont Youth Conservation Corp. The program emphasises on health, care, and share as they connect fresh food to local providers. Connected patients receive fifteen weeks of fresh food/vegetables to get them on a healthier path that will help them get through the challenges that they are experiencing. 

A Day of Service + The Hope Foundation

Cigna had their first annual day of service last year and it was amazing! Many employees who’ve been at the company for years expressed that the event was the best day of their lives! Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cigna was unable to hold this year’s day of service. 

With the new “normal” that our community is living in today, many organizations are coming up with creative new ways for volunteers to serve. Originally, the Hope Foundation would invite employees of organizations to pack activity kits for kids at the hospitals and homeless shelters. Sara was amazed at Hope Library’s creative idea for volunteers to upload videos of themselves reading a children’s book. She even participated in the activity herself by uploading a video of herself reading 5 Little Monkeys (adorable!). In doing so, Sara hopes to not only entertain the children but give the parents a much needed break. 

The Cigna Foundation

The Cigna Foundation is a separate 501c3 entity that is distinctive of Cigna as a corporation. Sara explains that despite this, their missions are not dis-similar in any way as they both work to improve the health, wellbeing, and minds of those they serve. 

Sara sees Cigna’s biggest goal is to educate and encourage nonprofit organizations to submit grants that align with the foundation’s goal. Cigna not only looks at how the grant is supporting the organization but also how they can assist the organization in achieving their mission in any way. 

Cigna on Mental Health & Loneliness

One of Cigna’s priorities focuses on social connecting and combating loneliness. In a study conducted in 2008 and updated recently, Cigna saw a tremendous epidemic of loneliness in America, primarily in younger generations. 

To combat this issue, Cigna opened up a 24/7 line to everyone (customer or not) to call in and talk to a behavioral health consultant to get the help that they need. During the rough times our communities have been in with the COVID-19 pandemic, Sara decided to take the initiative to reach out to nonprofits she knows to share this resource. 

Community Ambassador Fellowship

Cigna offers wonderful employee benefits including the Community Ambassador Fellowship Program. Once employees reach their fifth year at Cigna, they are invited to be a community ambassador fellow. Since 2017, ten to twelve employees have been chosen each year. As fellows, these employees temporarily stepped away from their role with the company and receive paid leave up to three months as well as up to $20,000 to spend on initiatives that they are working on with a local nonprofit.

While Sara is unable to apply herself as she is only in her third year at Cigna, she had the unique opportunity to be on the selection committee. She expressed that, “Seeing the passion and dedication of employees all over the world to take this role on is amazing. They just channel what they are seeing and put their job aside for a short time and see what they can do to help”. 

Sara has done amazing things for our community from her work on community engagement at Cigna and her initiative to serve at the Hope Library during a time where we all have to be there for each other. We had a very fun time learning about Sara’s journey and the work that she has done! 


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