STUDENTS WITH THEIR HEROES: Heroes today don’t need an epic journey, but, rather, perseverance and servant heart.
On their epic journey of life, 14 hometown heroes paused long enough last month for young people to recognize them, and express their appreciation for the heroes’ community service.
It was the culminating study of “The Odyssey” unit for 9th and 10th grade English Honors students of teacher Erica Cummins. The students faced these Essential Questions:
“What are the characteristics of a hero today?”
“Who do you see a hero who has made a difference in our community?”
Heroes who were recognized by the Clinton High School class were Kenny Cook, Tony Dempsey, JC Brewington, Josh McLendon, Jill Mechling, Christian Cothay, Sonny Ledda, Maureen Tiller, Dr. David O’Shields, Buddy Bridges, Tyrone Goggins, Scott Shiflet, Sgt. Anthony Adams and Jamie Fain.
After their Nov. 15 presentations, one member of each group had one last task to accomplish. They had to write and send a handwritten Thank You note.
The heroes left the professional development room at Clinton High School with a certificate of accomplishment and a one-of-a-kind, student-designed T-shirt.
“I told them, I want you to think about who in our community makes a difference,” Cummins said. “Anyone who knows me knows I like to control things; I didn’t do anything. They did it all. We want you to know, you are looked up to in this community.”
These are the Hometown Heroes:
JC Brewington -- served in the Army, as a medic, firefighter, fire instructor, police officer and now Laurens Police investigator, (and a CHS graduate). He saved unconscious people on two occasions.
Kenny Cook -- as a CHS graduate from Cross Hill, he went through a cancer diagnosis (in remission); played high school football and basketball, and was a football state champion. Cook played college football and plays professional football; he is engaged and likes to work with children.
Josh McLendon -- as a firefighter, his job is “great and very stressful”; he sees people in some of their most stressful times. He has fought 600 fires, and was nominated for Fireman of the Year and was named The Clinton Chronicle Firefighter of the Year.
Jill Mechling - throughout her life she has loved animals and, through her work at Presbyterian College, she reached out to the Humane Society. She was a board member for nine years and collaborated with others to open the Laurens County Humane Society Animal Shelter in Clinton, representing a community built on compassion. Also, Mechling brought books showcasing the animal shelter, and described the volunteer opportunities there.
Sonny Ledda - born in The Philippines to a military family, he is the Clinton Police Chief and has been a police chief for seven years. He was inspired by the police chief of Charleston to become a police chief. Ledda is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Christian Cothay - originally wanted to go into youth ministry, and now he and his wife work with Thornwell Home for Children. They are house parents for eight teenage girls, taking them to appointments and making a home for them. He believes it is the work the Lord wants him to do. He once was on the cover of USA Today and was the first member of his family to attend college, Asbury University.
Tony Dempsey - he does a lot in the community, class teacher Erica Cummins said. Supporting the schools on a regular basis, Dempsey’s pizza restaurant is a staple in the community, and the family strives to keep its principles of service through the people they hire, and how they mold young minds and students to be better.
Jamie Fain - a mother of four sons, she grew up in Clinton and Mountville, and is a CHS graduate. She puts family first and serves through the soup kitchen. She’s had many challenging life moments but, in the end, overcomes them and simply is herself. She has been a stay at home mom, has worked in day care and volunteers at the ministry - she says to do this work, “You have to have a big heart.”
“She helps the people who can’t help themselves, and this is why she is our hometown hero.”
Buddy Bridges - growing up in Joanna, he had many brothers and sister not by blood but by heart. He has been a coach and founded the Dirt Devils baseball team; he is president of the Touchdown Club and Voice of the Red Devils, announcing for 15 years. Buddy played basketball and football at Clinton High School; now, working with
Farm Bureau Insurance, helping people protect the things that mean the most to them is the most rewarding part of his job. “He is clearly not afraid to show his devotion to Clinton High School.”
Tyrone Goggins - growing up, he saw things in the neighborhood that he wanted to help correct. He has been a police officer for more than 21 years, and makes sure the department is operating in a good manner. He says the best part of the job is being able to help others. He is a former Laurens County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
Scott Shiflet - works at Clinton High in construction and has been a firefighter and fire marshal. “It is a very challenging profession and anyone who takes on that challenge deserves to be recognized. The perseverance shown by him and other firefighters is truly astounding.” Shiflet worked the Anderson Hardwood fire and the Bailey Manor fire; an unsung part of his work was toward a reduction in insurance rates for property owners. He says that, “people speaking to me years later for helping them or their family member, that really meant a lot to me.”
Sgt. Anthony Adams - participated in Air Force ROTC at Greenville High School, and in July 1989 joined the military. His assignments have included Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Freedom. As an instructor in JROTC at Clinton High School, his students say, “Sgt. Adams always brightens my day,” and “he has a big soft spot in his heart.”
Dr. David O’shields - is the superintendent of District 56, and teaches an AP class to over 40 students every year. He and his wife Teri coach the Science Olympiad and Academic Bowl teams. As a graduate of the University of South Carolina, he has been a teacher, an assistant principal, the principal of two schools and the superintendent. He wanted to go into the ministry originally, and for 38 years as an educator, he has been the reason many students have chosen their career path - “thank you for putting all your efforts into students getting the education they need.”
Maureen Tiller - has “changed the lives of many children for the better - at CHS she created a positive working environment for all students to learn.” She was the Clinton High School principal and, in two years, her new school, Fountain Inn High School, will be open; she is involved in the planning from the ground up. She is getting a doctorate at Clemson University to to one day go back into teaching. She especially appreciates that in education, people from different backgrounds come together to do great things and make memories. To be a teacher, she says, “You have to like children, understand the way they learn, and be a great communicator.”
“Everyone has a hero - Mrs. Tiller’s is her mom, and she is ours.”
After the first presentations, Chief Ledda said, “We don’t deserve this. We are not heroes, the folks who are heroes are the unsung off duty officers in California who yesterday while dropping off their children at school, did what they had to do to save their community (from wildfire). On behalf of everyone in our community who were not chosen, but are heroes, thank you.”
Cothay recognized, “the teachers here, there are heroic actions every single day that they take to serve you.”
McLendon said, “JC and I have saved a life together. There are many (heroes) in the community. Be the best person you can be - you can make a difference to somebody. You can be a leader yourself, by always doing the little things.”
The student roles for this project were 1) correspondence/secretary, 2) interviewer, 3) multi-media coordinator, 4) presenter, and 5) T-shirt designer.
The two CHS Hometown Heroes groups each shared a homemade cake from the high school’s Sweet Creations.