Canandaigua teen lives out faith by serving others
Sarah Neubecker knows exactly what she wants to do after she graduates from Our Lady of Mercy High School this spring.
“She wants to go save the world,” her mom, Karen Neubecker, recently told the Catholic Courier.
Neubecker’s words may have been a slight exaggeration, but Sarah, 17, really is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of those in need, particularly in South America and Central America. Sarah recognized this desire two years ago, during a trip to Argentina with a group of her fellow Mercy students. The group spent some time during the trip serving the poor in one of the slums of Buenos Aires, and the experience had a profound effect on Sarah.
“That was kind of life-changing. It kind of set in place for me what I wanted to do,” remarked Sarah, who belongs to St. Benedict Parish in Ontario County.
Before going on the trip, Sarah knew she was interested in history and in the Spanish language, which she learned during her elementary and middle-school years at St. Mary School in Canandaigua, but she didn’t know how to translate those interests into a career choice. After returning home from Argentina, she told her parents she wanted to study Spanish and international relations and eventually work for a nongovernmental organization helping needy people in South America or Central America, Neubecker recalled.
Sarah’s commitment to helping others comes as no surprise to many of the adults in her life. Sarah impressed Susan Decker two years ago when the teen was in Decker’s honors English class at Mercy.
“Everything she does just reflects her faith and her Catholic beliefs and her lifestyle,” Decker said.
Several months ago Decker asked Sarah and another senior, Madeline Fasano, to help her start a Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas chapter at Mercy, and both teens accepted the challenge without hesitation. The task ended up being more involved than any of them had expected, but the teens were very generous with their limited free time, Decker said.
The new chapter’s first meeting was held a few days after the March for Life in Washington, D.C ., which Sarah attended with Decker and a group of students and faculty from Mercy. In recent weeks Sarah also has been busy preparing for her Motto project, which is a project each Mercy senior completes before graduating.
“It has to be based on the critical concerns of the Sisters of Mercy, and you have to have an action and a plan,” explained Sarah, who decided her project would benefit Bethany House, a Catholic Worker shelter in Rochester for homeless women and children.
Sarah is coordinating an effort to make quilts and tote bags for the women and children at Bethany House, and to fill the bags with scented lotions, nail polish and other beauty products. These items are small luxuries but can go a long way toward improving the women’s self-confidence and mood, Sarah remarked. She organized a sewing day at St. Mary Church’s Dougherty Hall in Canandaigua, when dozens of volunteers would be on hand to put together the quilts and bags. Early January’s wintry weather conditions forced her to cancel the event, but she plans to reschedule it in the near future.
“She got the middle-school houses at St. Mary’s School involved, too, and they gave her four huge boxes of items they had collected,” Neubecker added.
Sarah has been involved in service projects since her own days as a student at St. Mary, according to Stacy Maslyn, fifth-grade teacher at the Canandaigua school.
“She was also an amazing role model to her classmates,” Maslyn noted.
“I can recall her having insights and writing things that were remarkable for a middle-school student,” added Katrina Palleschi, who teaches middle-school English language arts at St. Mary.
Sarah is still winning praise for her writing. An essay she wrote last year earned first-place honors at the local, state and international levels of an essay contest sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Her writing, however, is not what stands out the most about Sarah, Palleschi said.
“The most impressive thing about Sarah was that she always treated people with kindness and respect and went out of her way to help anywhere she saw a need,” she said.
Serving others is a way for Catholics to answer the Gospel’s call to action, Sarah opined.
“For me at least, working with people is the best way to see Jesus in the world and to put your faith into action,” Sarah said.