Sara’s Dream Leads to New School in Nicaragua

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (August 9, 2016)  When Maria Sawick traveled to Nicaragua in June, it was a bittersweet journey to dedicate a school built through Food For The Poor in memory of her late daughter, Sara.

Sara Sawick died unexpectedly at the age of 20 in November 2014. She was a sophomore Fine Arts major at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. She had traveled with Food For The Poor on a mission to Nicaragua in June 2013. Her family, full of anguish from such a tragic loss, decided the best thing they could do would be to pour out their hearts to continue Sara's work and honor her memory.

The St. Kateri Tekakwitha School was dedicated in Sara's honor in June in Jícaro, Nicaragua.

"I felt halfway to heaven. I felt her presence so strongly," said Maria Sawick, who lives in Philadelphia. "There was a sense of completion looking up and seeing my daughter's name up there on a plaque. Her memory will live on in the lives of the children that go to the school. It was clear to me that we had found the perfect way to honor her memory."

Maria Sawick and her friends created a web site – – and raised all of the money to build the school.

Thanks to donors, children of all ages now have a school and a safe, clean place to learn in the heart of their community. In the past, younger children had to walk 2 miles to attend school. For older children, there were no schools at all.

The name of the school is derived from Kateri Tekakwitha, "the Lily of the Mohawks" and the first Native American saint. When Sara Sawick was a first-grader, her teacher asked students to make a puppet of a saint. She chose Kateri Tekakwitha. When it came time to choose a confirmation name, her obvious choice was Kateri.

Kateri was born in 1656 in what is now New York state. She was 4 when her family died of smallpox. Kateri survived but her face was permanently disfigured by the disease. She was persecuted for her faith but remained steadfast and dedicated her life to prayer and caring for the sick and elderly. She died at 24.

Like Kateri, Sara expressed a desire to serve others at a very young age. As Sara got older, her fondest wish was to go on a mission somewhere. When she was in college, her mother saw an ad in church for a mission trip with Father Chuck's Challenge and signed her up.

Father Chuck's Challenge is an initiative named in memory of Father Chuck Pfeffer, a priest in Philadelphia who was beloved by the community. To help address the needs of the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua, donors and volunteers from Catholic parishes in the Philadelphia area have funded projects for nine years and have taken annual mission trips through Food For The Poor.

"She absolutely loved it. It whetted her appetite. She wanted to go back in the strongest way but was never able to," Maria Sawick said.

As Sara's family prayed for guidance to find the right way to honor her memory, it crystalized for them that helping destitute families in Nicaragua was what Sara would have wanted. In June 2014, her younger sister, Anneliese, traveled with Food For The Poor to Nicaragua.

"It was a very spiritual connection between two sisters, to be where Sara was and experience what Sara experienced and the people she met. It helped with healing the brokenness we felt after Sara's death," said Maria Sawick.

One year later, on the day of the school's dedication in Nicaragua, parents and children in the village played music and lined the street leading to the school. Maria Sawick described the feeling as "jubilant" and "spiritual." The family's hope is to continue Sara's legacy by working with Food For The Poor to help families in other countries served by the charity.

"Sara's love for the people of Nicaragua will be demonstrated every day through simple things like a clean classroom and the long-term promise that education holds for these children," said Food For The Poor Executive Director Angel Aloma. "How beautiful that this family has turned their grief into a future for so many other children."

Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 95 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit

Michael Turnbell

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6054