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 an 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 fellow Mercy students. The group spent 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 people who know her. 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.
Recently Sarah and another senior, Madeline Fasano, helped Decker start a Junior Catholic Daughters of the Americas chapter at Mercy. The new chapter’s first meeting was held shortly 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 each Mercy senior completes before graduating. She is coordinating an effort to make quilts and tote bags for the homeless women and children at Bethany House, a Catholic Worker shelter in Rochester. The bags will be filled with scented lotions, nail polish and beauty products. These small luxuries can vastly improve 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.
“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 and was a good role model for her classmates, according to Stacy Maslyn, fifth-grade teacher at the Canandaigua school.
“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’s writing is still winning praise. 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.