Alumni Spotlight: Having a Heart for Homeless Teens

REna Sarigianopoulos 2

Rena Sarigianopoulos, ’96 BA in Telecommunications

Rena Sarigianopoulos, ’96 BA in Telecommunications

A casual question led TV journalist Rena Sarigianopoulos to the news story of her career.

A reporter and weekend anchor for KARE 11-TV in Minneapolis, the YSU grad was covering a church blood drive when she asked directions to the restroom. The answer: “Down the hall, next to the youth food pantry.”

She asked why a church would need a food pantry for teenagers, and the response was a shocker. Homeless teens wandering the city streets used the free food to barter for a place to sleep – an alternative to selling themselves into sexual slavery.

“I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach,” she remembers. “How could I go about my everyday life after that? I had to do something.”

Sarigianopoulos began to investigate. She learned that, on any given night, 2,500 kids between the ages of 15 and 20 spend their nights on the street in the state of Minnesota ­– homeless shelters often had beds for adults and younger children, but few for teens. She also found people working on solutions, setting up networks of caring families willing to offer temporary or long-term homes.

Her report on teen homelessness won KARE 11 a prestigious national Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in hard news reporting in 2012. “It was probably the pinnacle of my career,” Sarigianopoulos said. “I think I’ll always have a soft place in my heart for those kids.”

She spent her own childhood in Boardman and Campbell, where her father recently retired from his long-time position as chief of police, and chose YSU mainly for financial reasons. Paying her way through school with a job at Chick-Fil-A, she emerged debt-free with a BA in telecommunications.

Painfully shy at the time, she credits the late Tom Holden, a well-known Youngstown television news personality and YSU instructor, for launching her career. At his urging, she tried out for an on-air student job reading editorials on WKBN-TV, and her 60-second piece on Ohio’s conceal carry gun law drew fire from the NRA. “They wanted it pulled,” she recalls. “It was the first time I realized that you have to stand up for people who don’t have a voice.”

She did an internship at WKBN and then, after graduation, landed her first job at the station as a producer. But Sarigianopoulos was no longer content to work behind the scenes. She accepted a TV reporting job in Dubuque, Iowa. “I took a pay cut, but money didn’t matter to me,” she said. “I wanted to be a reporter, to meet people, to learn something new everyday. That’s what I wanted to be doing.”

Since then, her career has taken her to progressively larger markets: Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee; and now the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

Currently, she has two full-time jobs in broadcasting and works seven days a week – loving every minute of it. Besides her role as a weekend anchor and reporter for KARE 11, a Gannett company and NBC affiliate, she also hosts a morning drive radio program weekdays on 96.K-TWIN, a radio station owned by the Minnesota Twins baseball club.

Despite her full work schedule, Sarigianopoulos makes time to run four times a week for health and fitness and enjoys giving back to the community by hosting charity events in the Twin Cities. Her mother and Step-Dad have relocated to Minneapolis, and she feels at home there, but she’s also proud of her roots. “Youngstown will always be my home,” she said. “I’m proud to be from there.”

(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Fall 2014.)