Posted On: December 2, 2019
Reading has always been one of Sarah Schwegel’s favorite ways to relax. Popular literature like “Harry Potter” and “A Game of Thrones” don’t make it to the top of her list, however.
“When I was in high school and college, I would read legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Social Security Act just for fun,” Sarah recalls. “Policy’s kind of my jam.”
Sarah studied rehabilitation services as an undergraduate at Maryville and went on to earn a Master of Public Administration degree from St. Louis University, the one educational path that would more than satisfy her penchant for policy.
Even before Sarah ever enrolled in a college course, however, she was already working to make a difference for young people with disabilities. As a high school student, she spent her summers as a camp counselor for Variety the Children’s Charity, assisting campers with arts and crafts, music, reading, and other daily activities.
Sarah’s commitment to serving kids with disabilities, combined with her vast knowledge of disability advocacy and policy, made her the ideal candidate for the role of Youth Transition Coordinator at SDI. She officially accepted the position in May of 2018, immediately taking the lead on SDI’s newest program at the time, DREAM BIG.
“Watching the program grow from an abstract idea into a collaborative, multifaceted resource for students has been amazing,” Sarah reflects. “The transition from high school to college and the world of careers can be a challenge for people with disabilities, and helping to build a program that eases this transition means a lot to me personally.”
Lori Becker, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Communications and Development at SDI, knew she had found the perfect person to spearhead the fledgling program.
“As a young person with a very significant disability, Sarah graduated from college with her Master’s degree and lives independently in the community,” Lori says. “She is proud of all of who she is and brings her whole self to work every day. She embodies the goal of the DREAM BIG program.”
As a volunteer, Sarah helped plan DREAM BIG when it was still in the pilot stage. Now it is flourishing as a year-round program highlighted by three week-long career camps in the summer. Despite her devotion to DREAM BIG, Sarah eventually learned of an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
Paraquad was in search of a public policy specialist, representing a natural progression in her career that she had to pursue. She applied for and accepted the position in November, a difficult decision that brings about her own sort of career transition.
“Public policy is more in line with what I studied, and I think I can have an even greater impact in this role,” Sarah explains. “I’ll definitely miss the direct interactions with students, and the relationships I made with my co-workers at Starkloff mean the world to me.”
One staff member Sarah worked closely with is Katie Fields, SDI’s College Outreach Coordinator. Katie knows Sarah’s absence leaves a considerable void.
“Sarah had a profound impact on Starkloff Disability Institute and the DREAM BIG program,” Katie says. “She helped to build that program into such a success and was able to provide incredible insight from her own journey in order to ensure camp was a wonderful experience for all participants.”
Katie says Sarah brought genuine integrity and enthusiasm to the job every day.
“One quality that I admire about Sarah is her ability to relate to anyone and everyone, a skill that really helped her to connect with her students in Dream Big,” Katie remarks. “She has a strong belief in doing the right thing and a passion for inclusion, which shows in all facets of her life- from work, to relationships, to how she spends her free time.”
Sarah has set a high bar for SDI’s next Youth Transition Coordinator, and Lori agrees that replacing her will be a tall order. She acknowledges that Sarah’s ambition is part of what makes her such an outstanding role model for young people with disabilities.
“This is going to be a hard role to fill and Sarah will be terribly missed. However, I am so proud of her for all of her accomplishments,” Lori reflects. “I find it hard to be sad when I know she is going on to follow her own big dreams.”