When Action in Africa opened a new community center in Nakuwadde, Uganda, in January 2015, it was an important milestone for the nonprofit and its young executive director, Sarah Nininger ’13. Still, the center’s success was not at all certain. The floors were still caked with mud from construction, and there were no doors or windows.

Fast forward less than five years, and Action in Africa’s Nakuwadde Center now serves up to 500 meals a day and offers arts and education afterschool programming, medical care, a savings program and other services. Nininger’s organization helped turn an empty building into a hub of vital services, but she says the local community deserves credit for the center’s success, because it’s locals who run day-to-day operations, improving the lives of their neighbors.

The Nakuwadde Center is the culmination of 15 years of work. Sarah founded Africa in Action as a high school student and then continued to build it while studying at Chapman University. She says her Chapman degree program was perfectly tailored to meet her personal and professional interests. And as an alumna, she has found a network of like-minded supporters.

Establishing Roots

Nininger was among the first Chapman students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Integrated Educational Studies in 2013. In addition to preparing classroom teachers, the Attallah College of Educational Studies IES program offers an emphasis designed for students looking to serve in a community setting. Graduates often go on to run nonprofit organizations, afterschool tutoring businesses or arts studios.

“It seemed like it was designed specifically for somebody like me who wanted to be in the education sphere but not be a teacher,” Nininger says. “To have the opportunity to study the community side of things and to learn about real-world nonprofit fundraising and management was really special.”