Oak Lawn teen keeps days stuffed with volunteering
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com January 1, 2013 8:28PM
Oak Lawn resident Sarah Dynia (left) receives a Youth Service Medal of Honor award from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (right). | Supplied photo
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Updated: February 3, 2013 6:01AM
To say that Sarah Dynia keeps herself busy is a major understatement.
Along with taking a slew of honors courses at Mother McAuley High School, the Oak Lawn 16-year-old spends virtually every free hour doing volunteer work. She devotes time to organizations such as Park Lawn, an Oak Lawn nonprofit group that assists people with developmental disabilities; and heads up her own charitable group, called Stuffed Love, which was created in November 2010.
Dynia stuffs and sews pillows — hundreds and hundreds of them — some of which are going to kids who’ve undergone heart surgery at Chicago-area hospitals, including Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn. The pillows are distributed through a group called Mended Little Hearts of Chicago.
Along with Park Lawn and Mended Little Hearts, Dynia volunteers at Interfaith House in Chicago, which provides temporary housing for adults; the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, her father, Mark Dynia, said.
In November, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart presented her with the Youth Service Medal of Honor for her volunteer work. Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann lauded her volunteer spirit, handing her a proclamation at the village board’s Dec. 11 meeting.
The sheriff’s award recognizes students who’ve devoted at least 100 hours of volunteer work in the prior year. In putting in the paperwork for the award, Sarah and her father had to detail her volunteer work for the last year. Just between her work at Park Lawn and with Mended Little Hearts, she’d given more than 600 hours of her time, Mark Dynia said.
Last Christmas alone, Stuffed Love handed out 575 pillows, some of which went to residents of Interfaith House. In February, Sarah Dynia brought heart-shaped pillows with patriotic themes to the Veterans Administration’s outpatient center in Oak Lawn for a “Valentines for Veterans,” which she also had done in 2011.
“She sews pretty much every weekend,” her father said.
Sarah said she does allow herself a bit of relaxation.
“My little treat is movies on the weekend, especially Disney movies,” she said.
Dynia doesn’t use a sewing machine to create the pillows — preferring to stitch them by hand — and she’s always open to donations of fabric and sewing supplies.
A sophomore at McAuley, Dynia is enrolled in the school’s Catherine McAuley Honors Scholars Program, which requires that she maintain a minimum 4.09-grade-point average. Much of her class schedule is filled with honors-level courses, and students in the program take part in career preparation events and receive additional information about available college scholarships.
She already has begun visiting colleges she’s thinking of attending, including the University of Chicago — which, Dynia said, has been her “dream since fifth grade” — as well as the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University and Northwestern University. Fields of study that interest her include biomedicine and pediatric cardiology, she said.
While school demands a lot of her time, Dynia said she has “no plans to drop Stuffed Love,” and that the time she puts in volunteering is her “main way of giving back.”
“It’s not really something I think about,” she said. “It’s really become second nature. It may be a lot of work, but it’s by no means a burden.”