When Sarah Nylund, a 2009 graduate of Upper Dublin High School, was choosing a college, her focus was not on ivy-covered buildings or social revelry. Instead, Nylund was searching for academic excellence combined with meaningful service learning opportunities to enrich her personal growth.
“I had heard a lot about the outreach programs that take place through campus clubs and organizations at Susquehanna University, which was one of the many things that attracted me to SU,” Nylund said.
Nylund is now a junior at Susquehanna University and studies biology and health care.
“I am currently in Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity that makes it possible for me to be involved with various campus projects each semester,” Nylund said.
Not long ago, a university supported program led to spending 15 days in Central America with 27 fellow students, where they delivered clothing and shoes, helped in a medical clinic and installed a ceramic floor in a church.
“I decided to be part of this outreach project because although I had been on service trips throughout the United States, I wanted to expand my experience outside the states with a full cultural immersion,” Nylund said.
“It was not at all what I expected,” Nylund said. “The poverty level is indescribable and unimaginable unless seen for yourself.
“Especially the Nicaraguan poor, who have scrap metal for roofs, no clean water, no running water nor any hot water.
“I expected to feel and have a reciprocated sense of xenophobia, at least at first,” Nylund said. “But, it was radically different. From the very first day, the cultural engagement I experienced impacted me the most. The young girls there welcomed me into their lives with such ease that I did not identify myself as a foreigner.”
“This trip also made me realize that in the USA it is easy to lose sight of what’s truly important in life — namely life itself and love,” Nylund said. “This concept is a difficult one to grasp until confronted by those who have the ability to show you the heart of reality.
“Due to this, I have no lingering feelings about their poverty level, but rather the opposite,” Nylund said.
“Poverty is much more than standard of living conditions and the amount of money being made. When it relates to happiness and how one spends their short time on earth, relative to mankind’s entire known existence, I believe these people are the richest of all, and I think we have much to learn from them,” Nylund said.
Nylund also takes part in local community service work while at SU. She helps at the YMCA with weekly dances for youngsters with disabilities, plays bingo with residents at a nearby retirement home and donates blood to the American Red Cross as often as permitted.
When asked her influences for her service-oriented approach to life, Nylund said, “My parents are supportive no matter what my venture. My mom is very big in giving back and has instilled in me an intrinsic motivation to give as much of myself as I can to service.”
Nylund’s parents, Leslie and Jeff, live in Fort Washington.
In high school, Nylund was part of outreach programs with the National Honor Society. She also volunteered at the SPCA and donated her hair to Locks of Love.
Aside from all of this, anyone who knows Nylund will tell you of another of her great passions — playing volleyball. She is an avid player and is the SU club team vice president and also in a league with some of her coaches.
“I love playing volleyball,” Nylund said. “I don’t think I have ever enjoyed an activity as much as I have volleyball. It is rare for me to go a week without playing. When I’m stressed, a good sprint or an hour of volleyball is just what I need,” Nylund said.
“Sarah Nylund has great character,” said the Rev. Marek Zabriskie, rector, St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh. “For many years, she was involved in our church youth programs and showed herself to be a leader. Sarah has a lot of promise to make changes in this world.”
Nylund has an older sister, Kendal, who was also involved with the youth group at St. Thomas. “I always looked up to her for being involved with the program,” Nylund said.
“Following college, I plan to go to school to become a physician’s assistant,” Nylund said. “I have also looked into the Peace Corps, but have not decided on it yet.”
Would she like to return to Central America or visit other Third World nations?
“In a heartbeat,” Nylund said. “Going on this trip made me realize that true service is about relationship forming.”