Sara Schmidt, part of Payson High School's class of 2000, is determined to make a difference in the world.
After completing her interdisciplinary degree in psychology, political science and pre-med at the University of Arizona, Sara intends to spend her summer before graduate school caring for children with AIDS in Salvador, Brazil.
"I really wanted to do some volunteer work abroad and I found a program called Cross Cultural Solutions and they send thousands of volunteers abroad every year," Sara said. "I'll spend eight weeks in Salvador, Brazil working in an orphanage with kids who have HIV and AIDS."
Sara will be doing things such as community education on AIDS prevention and how to get access to medical care and spending time with the children.
"I'm trying to learn Portuguese right now, which a lot harder than Spanish I've found out," Sara said. "And I'm trying to raise all the money to go."
Sara decided that she wanted to help children with AIDS after doing volunteer work in Tucson.
" I did a volunteer training in Tucson at a support center for families who have either lost a child or have a terminally ill child," Sara said. "I spent time playing with the children and knew that's what I wanted to do. These kids teach you more than I learned in four years of college."
Compassion and public service runs in Sara's family. Her mother, Penny Navis-Schmidt is a social worker and her father, Joe is a public school teacher.
"When someone identifies their passion at such a young age, like Sara did, I have no other choice but to support her," Penny said. "It really gives me hope for our future generations."
Sara's grandmother started a food and clothing bank out of her garage, that later evolved into one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the United States.
"My grandma single-handedly started a huge, nonprofit organization in Colorado -- the Interfaith Task Force -- out of her garage," Sara said. "I grew up with that notion that it's not about how much money you make or prestige, it's about what you can do to help other people."
Sara began her college career as a pre-med student, with the intention of going to medical school. During a summer job to support her education, she did something very few people could summon the courage to do -- she performed CPR on a man who had a cardiac aneurysm and was bleeding profusely from the mouth.
"We were getting ready for the grand opening of a credit union and I was cleaning the building and some employees were there moving their stuff in. A man collapsed. I had just done my CPR training and there was blood coming out of his mouth and I asked for a mask and they didn't have one -- I just did it -- everyone kept telling me ‘don't do it', but he was purple and his heart wasn't beating and he wasn't breathing."
Despite the risk to her own health, Sara performed CPR and kept the man alive until paramedics arrived.
"The fire department freaked out and had me gargle with hydrogen peroxide for an hour," Schmidt said.
After blood tests, it was determined that Sara was fine.
"He lived and I met his wife and that was really neat," she said.
"Sara has always been a kid who does the right thing," Penny said. "She has had a very clear awareness of what the right thing is and it comes from your heart and you don't have a choice when the opportunity is there to do the right thing. She put her life on the line for this man."
While the other students in her pre-med program were fascinated on curing disease, Sara realized she was more interested in focusing her energy on wellness and disease prevention.
"Sara told me that she doesn't want to treat sick children, she wants to help communities raise healthy children," Penny said. "I'm so proud of her for taking those risks."
Sara is now busy applying to graduate schools.
"I want to get a dual degree in social work and public health," Sara said.
She hopes to help people get the health care and services that are available to them.
"I want to help work in the community and help people live healthier lives," Sara said. "It really concerns me that there are 42 million people who don't have health insurance in this country. Our infant mortality rate is higher than Cuba. People aren't getting the care they need."
"Sara graduated in that class of 2000, which was such a high achieving class," Penny said. "Sara really is a product of this community --she was raised by a village. She was raised right in this community and has carried that on with her. The service clubs like Kiwanis really supported Sara and she took that obligation very seriously-- they believed in her."
"I know there's not a whole lot I can do to change the world, but I better do everything I can do, otherwise I'm just sitting back and watching it happen and being sad about it," Sara said.
Sara's current goal is to raise the $5,000 she needs to go to Brazil. While her mother has the normal concerns about her safety, Penny's pride in her daughter is effusive.
"Other kids her age want to take vacations and have fun. Sara wants to help people," Penny said. "That's her dream -- I would never stand in the way of her passion. I am so proud of who she has become."
To make a tax-deductible donation to help Sara get to Brazil:
Mail a check or money order to:
2 Clinton Place
New Rochelle, NY 10801
(Write "Sara Schmidt" on the check)
Supply the following information:
2345 E. 8th St.
Tucson, AZ 85719
- Visa or Mastercard accepted
Name: Sara Elanya Schmidt
Occupation: Student at the University of Arizona
Employer: U of A Neurology Department
Family: Parents, Penny and Joe, brother, Lucas
Personal motto: Be true to yourself
Inspiration: Mom, dad, grandpa and grandma
Greatest feat: Having the realization of what I wanted to do with my life and having the courage to go through with it.
My favorite hobby or leisure activity is ... volleyball
The three words that describe me best are ... compassionate, excited, fun
I don't want to brag, but ... I once saved a man's life.
The people in history I'd most like to meet are ... John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela
Luxury defined: Anything but macaroni and cheese for dinner
Dream vacation spot: Salvador, Brazil
Why Payson? My parents fell in love here.