Vickroy: Tireless teen earns Governor’s Volunteer Award
They’re small, soft and oh, so cute. Yet, these tiny pillows are strong enough to comfort the afflicted, cheer the saddened and remind even the most downtrodden that somebody cares.
“You can see it in the smiles people give,” says Sarah Dynia. “You can definitely see the transformation in someone when you give them something. You can see the impact is way bigger than one small pillow.”
Sarah, a sophomore at Mother McAuley High School, recently presented one of her hand-stitched heart-shaped pillows to a Vietnam War veteran. He told her he hadn’t received many tokens of appreciation since that war ended.
“Then he said, ‘I want to put this somewhere special’ and he put it over his heart,” she said.
Others have hugged, kissed and cuddled their pillows. Many have put them away for safe-keeping.
Sarah Dynia, who lives with her parents, Mark and Laura Dynia, in Oak Lawn, started her pillow-making non-profit, called Stuffed Love, back in eighth grade.
Since then she has sewn, and given away, more than 5,000 of the little bundles of love. She gives them to pediatric heart patients, veterans, seniors, the homeless and parents who’ve lost a baby to congenital heart defects.
“I give them to whoever needs one, whoever needs a little love,” she said.
Sarah’s campaign to bring love and comfort to the suffering and lonely, not to mention her undying energy, recently earned her the 2013 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award.
Recently, she was invited to visit the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield. Sen. Bill Cunningham showed Sarah and her parents around the Capitol. She also visited the Illinois House, where she was received with a standing ovation.
“I was waving like the Queen of England,” Sarah said.
Last week, Sarah was honored by the Oak Lawn village board during its regular meeting.
She was nominated for the Governor’s Award by Paul Jordan, who wanted to recognize the teen’s tireless volunteer work at Park Lawn and Activity Center in Oak Lawn.
Sarah has been organizing craft projects for developmentally delayed people there since 2011. She also helps out at the annual Park Lawn Fun Days event by helping students participate in dancing, games and other activities.
She’s also a regular at the Veterans Administration outpatient centers in Oak Lawn and Joliet. And you can spy her at local nursing homes, giving out heart pillows and taking in lots of stories.
“Sometimes it means so much to them to just have someone to talk to,” she said. “When they say, ‘Will you talk with me for a while?’ I always say of course I will. How can I not?”
The pillows have been so well received that she has been contacted by Mended Little Hearts Chicago to make them for goody bags that group hands out to pediatric patients.
In addition, in 2012, Sarah sewed more than 1,000 pillows for the care bag program and the Angel Heart Memory Box program, which comforts parents who are grieving the loss of a child to congenital heart defect.
In addition to her numerous volunteer activities, Sarah is very active at Mother McAuley, where she is a Catherine McAuley Honors Scholar. She is also a member of Action/Reaction, EcoMacs, Junior Classical League, Math Club, Math Macs, Primary Colors, Science Club, Science Bowl Club and, as if all that is not enough, she is a goalie on the junior varsity lacrosse team.
But it is volunteering that she truly loves because it allows her to help those who often need it most, yet aren’t in a position to ask for it. In addition to Stuffed Love, Sarah donates her time to helping at the Oak Lawn Children’s Museum and volunteering with the Worth Township Youth Service Bureau.
She is a remarkably busy teen, but her dad says she thrives on the crazy schedule.
Lest you think she doesn’t have time to be just a normal teenage girl, consider this:
Her favorite team is the White Sox. She has volunteered with the White Sox Volunteer Corps. Recently she sent a stuffed heart to her favorite player, Matt Thornton, not because he needs the love, but because she has a crush on him.
“My lacrosse number is his number, 37,” she said.
Has the relief pitcher responded to the gesture?
“Well, no,” she said, and then in true teenage fashion added, “But you never know.”