Community service is important to many members of the Cushing family.
Each spring, our students participate in our annual Tony Fisher Day, during which groups of students go out into the surrounding community to perform various acts of service. In the last few years, our students have volunteered at food banks and state parks, as well as locations around Ashburnham like the senior center, the town library, and the town’s safety complex. They’ve even been as far afield as New York City. The day is in honor of philanthropist and Cushing alumnus Tony Fisher ’69, who died tragically in a plane crash en route to the Academy in 2003.
But the Academy’s contributions to community service happen more than just one day per year. In the fall, first-year Academic Support Teacher Shawn Gebhardt began advising the Academy’s community service afternoon activity. He discussed with the students what they would like to do and the participants told him they’d like to work with younger kids, so Shawn reached out to the local elementary school. The school’s Extended Day program welcomed the opportunity to have the Cushing students visit, and so they set up visits to take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 5 pm. Each day, half of Shawn’s 15 students would visit the school, helping out with homework, playing games with the kids, supervising outside play, and doing arts and crafts. The Cushing students loved it, as did the kids from the elementary school.
Track coach and ESL teacher Stirling Ince got his students involved in a community service project as well. Stirling has been volunteering at the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center in Fitchburg for several years and last winter he decided to get a few Cushing students involved. Three students signed up and they visited the center as part of their afternoon activity. Once at the center, the Cushing students help with homework, arts and crafts, science experiments, and other tasks. He continued the activity during this most recent winter term.
Stirling says it can be discouraging work because sometimes the kids at the center have trouble doing schoolwork that should be easy for them and sometimes there are kids at the center who clearly have the desire and ability to learn at a higher level, but they lack the support that they need to do so. Even so, he acknowledges that the experience is beneficial both to the students at the center and for the Cushing students who help out. “It’s a reminder that not everyone has the same opportunities,” says Stirling. “It’s a reminder for our students that they have things to be thankful for.”
There’s a real need for this kind of support at the center. Sometimes they have as many as 40 kids at the center with very few staff members to help. And although he’d like to do it all year round, Stirling coaches in the fall and the spring, so it has to be just a winter activity. “I’d like to get more people involved,” he says, “but they need to be doing it for the right reasons.”