Stuffing, sewing and stitching add up to changing lives for Oak Lawn teen
A little stuffing, sewing and stitching has gone a long way to helping many people.
Sarah Dynia of Oak Lawn, has the carefree spirit of a typical, 17-year-old junior who walks the halls at Mother McAuley High School.
But when the bell rings to signify school is out, Dynia’s work in the community begins.
For that enduring effort, she recently received the President’s Volunteer Service Award with a letter signed by President Barack Obama.
She’s barely of the legal of 18 and already she can boast she is the founder and president of her own company — Stuffed Love.
“Stuffed Love is dedicated to caring for others,” Dynia said. “We do this by making hand-stitched stuffed pillows in various shapes and sizes which we distribute to organizations and people. The scope of Stuffed Love is not limited; we help veterans, seniors, the developmentally disabled, homeless and sick children in hospitals.”
The idea hatched from acts of kindness from her father, Mark.
“When my dad would travel for work, he’d always send me a stuffed animal,” Dynia said. “As I clutched them, I felt loved. I wanted others to feel that. But I make it personal by hand-stitching them.”
Stuffed Love’s product line includes, stuffed animals, hearts, eggs, flowers, stars and even some monsters.
“If it can be sewn and stuffed, I can make it!” Dynia said.
Her work has come to the attention of some important people, including the President. She received an award with a letter signed by the nation’s boss.
“Congratulations on receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award, and thank you for helping to address the most pressing needs in your community and our country…,’’ the letter said.
This award is arguably the highest one can receive volunteering.
And if this is her Oscar, the Prudential Spirit of Community Award Certificate of Excellence is her Golden Globe as she recently won that, too. That letter said her activities were “within the top 10th percentile of all those considered in your state this year....”
Dynia said when she became a member of her school’s National Junior Honor Society the service-hour-requirement was 24 hours, annually.
“I really enjoy volunteering so I went beyond those hours.” Dynia said.
Eligibility for Presidential recognition in the category of young adults must meet 100-plus hours over a 12-month period. Dynia said she’s on the heels of 1,000.
Dynia’s parents, Mark and Laura have fostered her passion by believing in her. She’s their only child.
“From the day Sarah was born we’ve always told her she could do and be anything,’’ Mark said. “From a young age she always wanted to make everyone feel better, either by sharing her favorite toy or giving a hug and it grew from there.”
Dynia’s parents may feel her qualities are innate but she said it’s their love for her that inspired her non-profit organization.
“Sarah created Stuffed Love in eighth grade,’’ Mark Dynia said. “Laura and I found ourselves being caught up in the joys of volunteering. I joined the White Sox Volunteer Corps and Oak Lawn Rotary Club, while all of us started to volunteer together at Park Lawn and Mended Little Hearts of Chicago. I thought if a 13-year-old can help people, what am I doing to help people?”
Dynia recalls being that 13-year-old girl at St. Linus School with an idea in her head.
“One day I asked my teacher, Mrs. [Jean] Swiecicki, what she thought of my concept for Stuffed Love,’’ Sarah said. “She pushed me toward the door saying, ‘Go tell the principal exactly what you just told me.’ If she hadn’t done that, this may not have happened.”
Swiecicki of Evergreen Park is still teaching at St. Linus. She declined any credit for Dynia’s accomplishments.
“I gave her a nudge down the hall but I’m certainly not responsible for what she’s doing,’’ the teacher said. “Sarah is changing lives. No idea is too large or small for her. This is not a word, but she’s un-discourage-able.” Then she giggled.
Providing hope over despair is exactly why Stuffed Love has partnered with Mended Little Hearts of Chicago. They offer support and encouragement to families with children diagnosed with a congenital heart defect.
Amanda Hokanson of Crete is the coordinator of the Oak Lawn chapter, out of Advocate Children’s Hospital. She said, “We gift our families with care-bags. They include items for the child and the parent such as, a journal, toiletries, snacks, a toy and a blanket. Sarah’s Stuffed Love heart-pillow is the perfect size for the children to hold after surgery.”
Hokanson and her husband, Eric, have two children, Morgan (8) and Austin (3) whose age matches his open-heart-surgeries. Her passion for the cause is personal.
“Mended Little Hearts and Stuffed Love are working together to minimize the stress and fear families experience during this process,” Hokanson said. “Sarah has been amazing. She even acts as our childcare provider during our monthly support group meetings. Morgan comes just to see Sarah.”
“The Mended Little Hearts of Chicago families’ are a part of our family,” Mark Dynia said. “We love them all. Stuffed Love wouldn’t be where it is without them and all the other great organizations we support.”
Stuffed Love accepts volunteers and monetary donations. However, Dynia said fabric, stuffing, needles and thread come in very handy.
“Snuggle flannel from Jo-Ann Fabrics work best for the babies.” Dynia said.
To get involved, visit www.facebook.com/StuffedLove
Dynia said her dream is to attend the University of Chicago to obtain an engineering degree. With her down-to-earth persona she chuckled, “Even with my volunteerism and 4 advanced placement classes, I still manage to take a two-hour nap after school.”