Sarah Nelson, Esq. grew up in Ponce Inlet, Florida by the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse. She didn’t live near many other people and spent the majority of her time going to the beach, exploring, and spending time with her brothers who were ten and eleven years older than her.
Sarah was an avid swimmer. Her mother’s favorite story about Sarah’s love for the water stems from when she was a toddler. Sarah and her parents went for a bike ride with Sarah on one of the bike seats. When she saw the water, she started squirming so badly, they had to stop. They took her out of the seat and she went crawling off towards the waves.
Sarah was (and still is) an avid reader, preferring books to TV and movies. “It’s a great escape,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to relax and get away from the stresses of the world.” She loves gaining new perspectives from the characters in her books and enjoys all genres, but particularly historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy.
Her love for reading, learning, and swimming made her interested in a career as a marine biologist, but in high school, she realized how intensive the program would be. Her oldest brother had gone to law school and became a clerk in New York State. When she visited him, he would take her to his office and let her do research. “It was really cool that he was surrounded by books all day.” She was interested in law, but wasn’t ready to make any decisions about her future yet.
Sarah went to University of South Florida for undergraduate school and double majored in international studies and religion with a minor in French. “I really always loved traveling and wanted to be more prepared for it.” International studies gave her the opportunity to learn geopolitics and history of different places across the world. Her religion degree complemented this. “Most people guide their lives based on their beliefs,” she says. “This is their compass.” Her studies helped develop her empathy and understanding of how people and systems worked.
She did two study abroad programs. First, she spent a month in France. Her second was a trip to China where she spent some time in Beijing before moving to a very rural area where she spent time teaching children English. “I have never been anywhere like that. The people were so nice.” She lived in a farm community and observed new practices, came face to face with BIG bugs she had never seen before, and had an overall unforgettable experience. She graduated from USF cum laude and as a member of the Honors College.
Law school at Stetson University College of Law came next. Sarah felt she had learned a little about how the world works and realized she did enjoy law. It seemed like a normal next step to take – “Law keeps societies running,” she says. She wasn’t interested in “big law” but wanted to help people who couldn’t help themselves. Again, she did multiple study abroad programs. One of her most interesting experiences abroad was when she visited The Hague and got to see a witness testimony for war crimes that had occurred during the Yugoslavian genocide. Early in her law school experience, she met her boyfriend, John, who ended up proposing in the Netherlands during this same trip.
During law school, Sarah was interested in immigration law and human trafficking. She had always found it questionable how people treat immigrants and wanted to advocate for them. In her final year, she did an immigration internship with Lisa, the Deputy Director of the GLS immigration unit, in the Bradenton office. She loved the experience. “I made it my life’s mission to get a job here.”
After she graduated, there were no job openings at GLS, but Sarah says, “I’m a very persistent person.” She volunteered at the Clearwater office with housing unit for a year until there was an opening. She started as a staff attorney and quickly moved into a supervising attorney role. She began working on a new returning citizens law project with PERC (People Empowering & Restoring Communities). She excelled in the work and became the lead on three other projects, the Medical-Legal Partnership with Community Health Centers of Pinellas, the fair housing Pinellas project, and most recently, the GLS life-planning project.
“Sarah never says ‘no’ to any new assignment. She started our Medical Legal Partnership Program with Community Health Centers of Pinellas in 2018, and has contributed to improved health and well-being of hundreds of patients. Sarah also enthusiastically took on our Fair Housing program in 2016, and our project serving returning citizens in 2019. She has really become our ‘go to’ attorney for special projects. Her passion and professionalism make her not only a top-notch attorney but also a dedicated advocate for her clients – no matter what the project.”
– Tammy Greer, CEO
Now, Sarah has been with GLS for five years. “I love GLS. This is a career of a lifetime.” She says she has no plans to move or change jobs and wants to continue to build her skills and advance in her position. She lives in St. Petersburg with her husband, John, (also an attorney) with their two dogs and two cats.