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Past Heroes – 2009

RARE Everyday Hero Stories


2009 - Kevin Musson
Special Education Teacher
2009 - Ronald Spears
Battalion Chief
2009 - Michael Wacht
Vice President of Technology
2009 - Jed Mulder
Executive Director
2009 - Lisa Herman
2009 - Amanda Whitmore
AmeriCorps Instructor
Everyday Hero
Kevin Musson
Special Education Teacher, Saline Area Schools

Written by: Julianna Whiteman, 2009 RARE Scholarship winner

About this Everyday Hero

An Everyday Hero in the World of Special Education>

Henry Brooks Adams once said: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” I have met many teachers over my school years, but one teacher has had an influence on literally hundreds of lives in our community. This teacher walks around Saline High School with an energetic smile on his face. He exchanges kind words with students and teachers, spreading his endless knowledge of everything involving special education. However, there is one thing he seems to be unaware of. He seems completely unaware of the countless lives he transforms in his classroom; transformations that last an eternity.

My everyday hero is Mr. Kevin Musson, a special education teacher in the Saline Public Schools resource room, teacher consultant and Director of the Saline Young Adult Program. Mr. Musson has built a “life skills” special education program for some of the most severely impaired students. His dedication and dreams for these programs have not only helped me discover my passion for teaching, but have profoundly impacted my twin brother, Daniel, who is autistic. Every morning, Daniel eagerly assembles his backpack, anticipating his action-packed day at the Young Adult Program, asking every few minutes if it is time to go yet. As soon as he gets to school, Daniel makes a point to say hi to everyone he meets with a large smile, easily getting a returned sentiment, even from a perfect stranger, whether it is at school, or in the community. Before entering Mr. Musson's program, Daniel was not able, or willing, to participate in these daily activities. Knowing in his heart that Daniel had every ounce of potential possible to succeed, Mr. Musson worked with Daniel tirelessly on different social and daily skills such as these, along with helping him with his language development and Daniel is only one of tens of students Mr. Musson works with.

People in the community now see these students with disabilities as valued individuals, and witness the Young Adult Program's daily outings, most prominently trips to the Recreation Center Pool, where Mr. Musson's students can be seen laughing and splashing in the pool, having the time of their lives. This wouldn't be happening if Mr. Musson hadn't come up with this innovative program. Each and every day, as his programs thrive and flourish, Mr. Musson constantly finds things to improve, helping disabled and nondisabled students alike.

During the school week, Mr. Musson teaches a class called “Connecting with the Exceptional Individual” for non-disabled students like me. For an hour a day, we travel to local elementary schools and the resource room at the high school to work with students with special needs. The students in each building vary in their disabilities. Mr. Musson is in charge of assigning each of us to a placement, scrutinizing which Connecting Student will fit with each special needs student, aiming to make the student's school experience as smooth as possible. Many of these students are ones that have particular behavior issues, making it difficult for a teacher with 25-30 students to help them. These placements are a reflection of Mr. Musson's rare ability and passion for working with students that have challenges, but also have the potential to succeed somewhere in them. Each day we write about our everyday experiences with our special child, growing in our ability to work with exceptional children. When we return toMr. Musson's classroom, we learn about different disabilities that can be seen in schools and strategies on how to teach these students so they can be successful in school. Mr. Musson's love and commitment is apparent through his detailed presentations and activities that provide learning opportunities. He shares of his own extensive experience as a paraeducator in a classroom at High Point, a residential school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and his many years as a teacher. Thanks to Mr. Musson, hundreds of students within the general education population have gained a respect and caring attitude for students with disabilities, seeing that while they might be different on the outside, students with disabilities are like any other student at school, with unique skills and dreams. This knowledge has inspired many of his students, like myself, to become paraeducators or teachers. After completing Mr. Musson's class, an understanding is formed that as a supporter of students with disabilities, in ways big and small, we can make an enormous contribution to their everyday lives.

In between teaching sections of “Connecting with the Exception Individual” classes, Mr. Musson heads over to Saline Middle School, where the Saline Young Adult Program is located. The Saline Young Adult Program is for students starting at high school graduate age, providing them special education services until the age of twenty-six. Not only are these students able to continue their education academically, but they continue to acquire life skills, from personal hygiene to managing job interviews that will allow them to function effectively in the community. A major part of this program is job placements within the community, which Mr. Musson sets up himself, meeting with local businesses periodically, from grocery stores to video stores, in hopes of providing a simple but stimulating work place that will allow his students to apply what they learn in the classroom. As a result of Mr. Musson's persistent searches for appropriate job placements, the number of people who are comfortable with disabled citizens and are willing to be kind and assist them has increased at a marvelous rate. In addition to these job placements, the students go on weekly trips to the local bank to manage personal bank accounts, and participate on fun weekly trips such as eating at restaurants and enjoying recreational activities like miniature golf, which my twin brother particularly enjoyed. These outings give Daniel and the other students countless opportunities to become comfortable with being in public. Creating the Young Adult Program is one of Mr. Musson's greatest accomplishments. He holds his students to high standards, every day believing in them, knowing that they can reach their full potential as functioning citizens in society. The supportive and caring environment that Mr. Musson has created in this program is evident through the progress that each of his students make on a daily basis, including my brother, making his creation of this program a true asset to these students and the community.

As I write this essay, I am in my second year as a Connecting Student in Mr. Musson's class. Everyday I eagerly await the time I spend in his class, because I know I will learn so much and experience in my placement a lot of what it takes to be a teacher, which is exactly what I want to pursue for a career. I have seen, first hand, Mr. Musson's dedication to his work, providing safe and comfortable havens for his students. My favorite memories of his class involve the Holiday Shopping Trip, where the Connecting Students and the students we work with, go to a nearby mall and shop for Christmas presents to give to their families. It really provides both sets of students a chance to enjoy one another, resulting in endless bouts of laughter and large smiles on their faces. Mr. Musson leaves impressions on students and staff alike, whether it is providing a caring word, or tirelessly preparing lessons for the Connecting Class or Young Adult Program. He certainly possesses the qualities of an Everyday Hero through his obvious passion for what he does and has made such an impact on Saline High School and our community. I am proud to recognize Mr. Musson as an inspiring role model in the world of education and as an everyday hero who is creating impacts that will last an eternity.

Everyday Hero
Ronald Spears
Waterford Fire Department, Battalion Chief

Written by: Staci Spears, 2009 RARE Scholarship winner

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About this Everyday Hero

Ron was 20 years old when his life changed forever. He was sitting at home when his father collapsed from a heart attack, right before his eyes. Panic stricken and desperate, he called 9-1-1, unsure of what to do to help his father. In the moments between the heart attack and the time the paramedics arrived to take his father to the hospital, Ron was overwhelmed with fear and terror, entirely unable to help his father. Ron would never forget that feeling.

Ron knew the only reason his father survived the heart attack was because of the knowledgeable and well-trained paramedics that came and quite literally saved his father's life. Ron knew from that moment on his duty in life was to help others the same way those paramedics helped him and his father. He soon began his training as a paramedic and firefighter.

Fast forward 32 years. Ron is now the Battalion Chief at the Waterford Township Fire Department and is the Academy Program Director at the EMS Academy in Waterford, Michigan. For 30 years Ron has dedicated his career and put his life in jeopardy to save others in danger. One cold Christmas morning when Ron was on a medical call he pulled into a driveway and a woman came out screaming “You're too late, you're too late!” Apparently her husband, an older gentleman, had gone into cardiac arrest and was clinically dead. After performing extensive CPR, Ron was able to revive the man. By the time the man left for the hospital he was sitting up talking to his wife. This life-saving resurrection alone makes Ron more than qualified to be considered an everyday hero.

However, Ron's desire to help others does not stop with his career. Ten years ago Ron became involved with a service organization called Construction for Worldwide Evangelism, or CWE. With CWE, Ron has traveled all over the world building churches and schools in developing countries like Costa Rica, South Africa, Grenada, Chile, Brazil, and Bolivia. Several times a year Ron packs his bags and heads to the other side of the world to spread the love of Christ by using his hands to help those less fortunate. Recently, Ron has even been able to use his medical skills to benefit others. As I write this, he is currently in Togo, West Africa working on a medical mission's trip, visiting different villages where hospital care is simply not an option. On his last medical trip to Africa, Ron told me about the extreme poverty he saw. He told me that the children were so poor they were thrilled to find empty water bottles to play with; they would even search for used soda cans to drink the last remaining drops.

If there is one thing I know about Ron, it's that he is always looking for a way to help others. In Africa his group helped fit people with glasses, administer antibiotics and pull infected teeth. Internal parasites were such an overwhelming problem that he spent a lot of time instructing people on proper sanitation. Teaching cleanliness was a high priority. He taught them how to boil water and prepare food to avoid the spread of parasites and diseases. Ron traveled each day to a different village prescribing medications and antibiotics and bringing medical care to those who otherwise would have suffered or died due to lack of treatment.

I believe that Ron is an everyday hero because he constantly makes sacrifices to go above and beyond the ‘call of duty' to help others. He does not get paid for going on these construction and medical trips. In fact the funding sometimes comes out of his own pocket, or through his own fundraising efforts. He even uses his vacation time from work to go on these trips.

Even more inspiring is the fact that Ron has spent over twenty years literally risking his life braving fires to rescue complete strangers. Ron's favorite Bible verse is John 15:13 “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friend.” To Ron this isn't just an inspirational verse to put on a plaque and hang on the wall, it's his code to live by, his call from God. Ron is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most inspirational people that I have ever met. Not only am I truly honored to know a man of this caliber, but I'm also proud to call him Dad.

Everyday Hero
Michael Wacht
Present It Now, Inc., Vice President of Technology

About this Everyday Hero

As a mentor, Michael encourages his mentees to set goals, explore careers, discover the importance of a positive attitude, and reinforces how values impact their personal successes. Michael works with three high school students throughout the school year.

“There are few joys in life that compare to watching a student that has faced so many obstacles, recognize the power of setting a goal, or truly believing for the first time that the mission statement he or she created is a possibility. As a mentor you are never quite prepared for the moment when the hope that you have for you mentee becomes a hope of their own,” said Wacht.

As a classroom mentor, Michael combines his real life experience with caring support and encouragement that today's teens need. With this, he helps students stay in school and to understand the importance of education so they can have a vision and drive for their future.

Everyday Hero
Jed Mulder
The Bridge Youth Ministry Center, Executive Director

Written by: Kevin Lambert, 2009 RARE Scholarship winner

About this Everyday Hero

The Bridge Youth Ministry Center, established in 1997 and located in Zeeland, Michigan, is an after-school program for at-risk high school and middle school students who need extra help with their homework or who need a safe place to hang out. Even though the community of Zeeland is a smaller, mostly faith-based and family-oriented community, there are still youth who are unloved, lonely, and discouraged. Some of these at-risk students who attend The Bridge have parents or other family members involved in drugs or alcohol, some come from homes with no discipline or instruction, while others have struggled with suicide and anger issues. Mr. Jed Mulder is the Executive Director of The Bridge Youth Ministry Center and is a firm believer of reaching out to our city's troubled youth and their families. Mr. Mulder is a true everyday hero and role model to me, The Bridge students, and also to our community.

I first became involved with Mr. Mulder and The Bridge program when I was a junior on my high school varsity tennis team. Mr. Mulder was the tennis coach at the time and, since it was my first year playing tennis, he spent a lot of one-on-one time with me, helping my game. Eventually, Mr. Mulder approached me about a program he was organizing for The Bridge Ministries. His goal was to organize a basketball team made up of Bridge students and high school athletes who enjoy basketball and who could also act as mentors for these at-risk students. I agreed to help out and, since becoming involved, I have come to admire Mr. Mulder because he demonstrates well the mission of meeting the needs of the youth in our community.

As coach of the “I Am Third” Bridge basketball team, Mr. Mulder stresses that basketball is a fun game, but the real reason we play is to build teamwork and other life skills such as communication and encouragement. Our motto is “JOY,” which stands for Jesus, Others, and You. We compete against other local youth ministry teams, teachers, cops and youth group leaders. This allows The Bridge students to interact with other adults and youth in a positive and friendly environment. Mr. Mulder loves the students he works with and shows an extreme amount of patience and respect toward them. I have never witnessed Mr. Mulder getting angry or raising his voice at these kids. He wants them to feel affirmed and accepted and encourages them to engage in healthy lifestyles. Mr. Mulder is an example of honesty, mercy, and forgiveness.

Besides the basketball team, as Executive Director, Mr. Mulder is responsible for a number of programs including: Drop-In after school, Bridge 2 Excellence (a tutoring program), Suspending Bridges (an option for suspended students rather than staying home), Faith and Fitness (weight lifting/physical activities), Explorer's Club, and Summer Bridges. Mr. Mulder works daily with local school counselors, social workers, teachers, churches and many volunteers to support these programs. He continually stresses the importance of building positive self-esteem and a sense of personal value among our community's youth.

A tenth grader from the public high school comments, “The Bridge is a home away from home. It is a place I know I can go to where people will listen to me and really care what is going on in my life.” I also believe that Mr. Mulder truly cares because I have seen it first-hand. Mr. Mulder is a man of great character and high morals.

On top of his work at The Bridge and serving as our high school's tennis coach, Mr. Mulder also volunteers as a middle school youth group leader at his church. His wife, Jill, and three daughters are also very supportive of the work he does and the time commitment involved. He goes above and beyond when it comes to serving in his job, his family, his church, and his community. In other words, Mr. Mulder is a hero of Zeeland's youth and a true difference maker in our community.

Everyday Hero
Lisa Herman
Eisenhower Elementary School – Southfield, Teacher

Written by: Jordan Jones, 2009 RARE Scholarship winner

About this Everyday Hero

In order to find an everyday hero I didn't have to look far, because there is an everyday hero in my life on a daily basis. She is a person who loves to help people, and the help she gives comes in many different forms, from teaching our troubled youth to taking trips to places like New Orleans to help with hurricane relief, Alabama to help rebuild churches, or to Africa to teach young girls. I'm lucky enough to have this woman in my life on a daily basis because the person I am talking about is my aunt. Lisa Hermann is my everyday hero.

Ms. Hermann is a teacher by profession, and she has taught in a wide range of different school settings. Her first teaching job came at Vista Maria which was a locked facility for girls who were wards of the state. She taught and coached public school children for fourteen years, and lately her main focus has been alternative education. As a teacher with Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy, Ms. Hermann taught in a locked facility for boys awaiting adjudication. Currently she teaches at Southfield Regional Academic Campus, which serves mainly as a credit recovery program for students who have fallen behind. In her twenty-one years of teaching Ms. Hermann has touched the lives of thousands of young people from all walks of life. To this day previous students of hers still maintain contact with her regularly in the forms of phone calls, Christmas cards, and general mail. I know what it is like to have a close connection with a teacher and how much it helps having a person that you know you can talk to whenever you need to. Ms. Hermann is that person for her students and for me.

During a time when relaxation is the first thing on people's minds, Ms. Hermann has spent her time over spring break in places such as Louisiana, and Alabama. I asked her why she does the things she does, and she told me “I feel like I should spend my free time helping others, I'm lucky enough to live the life that I do live, and I feel like should try to give back.” In Louisiana Ms. Hermann helped to rebuild homes that were devastated by hurricane Katrina. During a time when not all people were treated equally and churches were being burned down because of a race barrier she spent her spring break rebuilding the churches. Her selflessness has inspired me to be a better person, and to help others also. She has taught me to be aware of the world around me and through that awareness how I can give of myself and help make the world a better place.

Over an entire year in 1996-1997 Ms. Hermann traveled to Kenya in order to teach underprivileged young girls through a program called Teachers for Africa. She spent her time learning about the culture, and building relationships with the children and the people of Kenya. Upon her return to the states, she and a colleague developed a nonprofit organization that raised money and collected supplies for an elementary school in Kenya. The money was used to pay tuition fees for several students who otherwise would not have been able to afford an education. Through her actions, she has inspired me to touch the lives of kids through coaching. It is my goal to one day coach basketball at the high school level where I can be a part of shaping the lives of young men.

I am lucky to know, let alone be related to such an incredible woman. Even in her profession she touches the lives of hundred of kids a day as an alternative education teacher in a high school for our youth who seem to have decision making difficulties. I asked my mom her opinion on her sister and the main thing I took from what she said is that “She will drop everything she's doing to help others, she doesn't think about herself first.” I've learned so much from her over the years.

We meet people like this every day, and I would go so far as to assume that unless you were to sit down and talk with those people, you would never know what all they have done. Ms. Hermann does not do these things seeking recognition, or awards, or money, but to help others. A hero is not measured by the number of accolades one receives, but by the number of lives that a person positively changes, and that is what makes Ms. Lisa Hermann and everyday hero.

Everyday Hero
Amanda Whitmore
AmeriCorps Career Center Instructor

Written by: Abagail Koning, 2009 RARE Scholarship winner

About this Everyday Hero

A Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”. A Honduran hero would say, “Give a girl a piece of bread; you have fed her for today. Teach her how to bake, and you have fed her for a lifetime.” The girl's name is Laura; she was heading down the road of prostitution and drugs in Santa Barbara, Honduras. The heroine is my older sister, Amanda. My sister created a different road for Laura, and her life outside of Honduras is continually heroic.

Amanda chose a poverty-stricken area in Honduras to help the poorest of the poor. Tirelessly working at an orphanage and a care facility for street children called, “La Infa,” Amanda refused to give in to the despair that surrounded her. Instead, she helped Laura and others begin a micro business baking and selling bread. Last summer, I saw this firsthand when I went there to provide additional help for two weeks. We raised funds for a large adobe oven, and she found local laborers to build it. The children were not only fed by the bread, but were able to sell it for a profit. She taught them the value of hard work and love. She selflessly cared for these children in various ways: delousing children, giving medical and dental care, going to remote homes to bring food, and exemplifying her deep compassion to them. My sister fed these children daily and was the mother they needed. One child, Betio, was so malnourished that his brain was rapidly deteriorating. Amanda fed him Gatorade, one capful at a time, until he recovered enough to eat solid food again. I know this saved his life. Although she has left Honduras, the children are still affected by the love and the long-lasting food supplies she gave them. Amanda is a lifelong role model.

Even though I am Amanda's true little sister, for the past three years she mentors another sister in the “Big Brother, Big Sister Program.” Her little sister Brianna, is often neglected at home and craves the time my sister gives her. Brianna tells my sister about school bullies, and my sister gives her support and advice. My sister sees when her parents underestimate her abilities and assures Brianna of her intelligence. Again, Amanda gives another person her time and emotional support. She goes above her responsibilities and college work to simply help this young girl.

Much of my sister's time is spent counseling youth at The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan in Grand Rapids. A troubled teen once asked Amanda, “What's the difference between the Army and a gang?” She replied, “The difference is that the Army has honor”. The response she gave him reflects her integrity. Many boys and girls ask her questions that would leave me speechless, but she gives them wisdom beyond her years. The people at The Hispanic Center view her as a respected adult, seeing her integrity and depth of understanding. In addition, she lived with a poor Hispanic family to help with their children and live in a new culture. I respect Amanda's devotion to broadening her cultural experiences.

Amanda may be a young adult, but that does not undermine the respect people have for her. The Bible says, “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). This verse is personified in her life because age does not limit her validity as a heroine. She is a heroine for little Honduran children, and she is a heroine to many local citizens. Amanda's motivation and pureness is so abundant, I cannot imagine her being anything less than my heroine and role model.

I see her reflected in the parable of the loaves and the fishes, where a young boy provided the master with the raw materials to feed thousands. Similarly, Amanda has done the same thing through her hard work ethic and commitment to making this world a better place. She has multiplied her love and compassion. My sister is truly an American heroine to me.