Class of 2017: Mentoring younger girls key for Falmouth senior

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FALMOUTH — Being a big sister – she’s the oldest of four – is so important to Olivia Spelman that she created a program to match elementary school girls with mentors.

For her efforts, Spelman, who will graduate with the rest of her Falmouth High School class June 4 in a ceremony at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, recently received the governor’s Youth Volunteer of the Year Award.

The award recognizes Mainers under 20 who “devote significant time to improving (their) community,” according to a press release announcing the award.

Over each of the past four years, Spelman has spent more than 200 hours in the service of others.

She’s a long-time and dedicated volunteer with Furniture Friends, a local organization that provides home furnishings to those in need, as well as a member of the organization’s board.

In addition, Spelman has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and is an officer in the Service Club at Falmouth High, along with spending several hours a week preparing for each session of the program she created, Girls Can.

“Olivia’s service to her community shows a great deal of character,” state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said about Spelman’s volunteer of the year award.

“She is not only mature and empathetic enough to see the big picture, but she is taking action to affect change,” Breen said. “She is a very special young woman and I am proud to have her in my community.”

Spelman said Girls Can is “a first-of-its-kind program” in Falmouth, and one reason she created it this school year is that she was looking for a way to “mesh my love of kids with my love of community service.”

Girls Can is Spelman’s senior project, but it means so much more to her than that.

During the Girls Can sessions, she said, “we talk a lot about how girls can do whatever they put their minds to.”

“Being a big sister is such a huge role in my life and it’s so important to me,” Spelman said. “That’s why I thought it would be great to provide a female role model that younger students could talk to and look up to.”

Under Girls Can, Spelman and other volunteers from Falmouth High spend about an hour and a half a week with the younger students. During these sessions, she said, “we have structured discussion around the qualities of being a good leader.”

There is also always some type of activity. For instance, in a session focusing on gratitude recently the girls made origami hearts and gave them to the custodians at the elementary school.

“I’m really impressed with these girls,” Spelman said. “They are an interesting mix; some are really quiet, so it’s great to see them blossoming. Others are really rambunctious and smart.”

The best part of Girls Can, she added, is, “I hadn’t realized how meaningful it was to the younger kids until I heard back from their parents about what a positive impact we were having.”

“Setting a good example really does make a big difference,” she said, while happily reporting that several of the student mentors who are not graduating plan to continue the Girls Can program next school year.

While Spelman has received accolades for her own volunteerism, she praised Falmouth High as a school that “puts an emphasis on community service” and one that’s “wonderful for creating all these opportunities.”

Spelman and her family first moved to Falmouth from Massachusetts when she was 8 years old. Her younger sisters are a junior and a freshman at Falmouth High and a seventh-grader at the middle school, respectively.

In her spare time, Spelman enjoys writing, mostly fiction, and this year she’s one of the editors of GORP, the literary magazine at Falmouth High. Her submission is a short story entitled “Heron Hour.”

The story is about “a creepy neighbor” who uses his hobby of birdwatching as a way to train his binoculars to spy on those living next door, she said.

Spelman will attend Bishops University in Quebec, Canada, where she plans to major in English. Her hope is to have a career as an editor, but right after college she hopes to participate in the Teach for America program.

Teach for America works to “recruit remarkable and diverse individuals to become teachers in low-income communities,” across the country for a minimum of two years, according to the organization’s website.

Spelman said taking the time to help others is “really important. Living here in Falmouth, we live in a bubble, not knowing that only a few miles away there is so much poverty.”

“We are so lucky here,” she said, “that we really must help others.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Olivia Spelman, who will graduate from Falmouth High School on June 4, has been recognized for her volunteerism with the governor’s Youth Volunteer of the Year Award.

A closer look

A benefit concert to support the work of Furniture Friends and the Telling Room, entitled “On a Positive Note,” will be held at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 28, at Falmouth High School. The event also includes a raffle and the Mashed food truck. The suggested donation is $5 per person or $20 per family.