Wheeler senior draws on family for service tradition

Wheeler High School senior Maddie Porter presents her senior research project on sea lion training at the Mystic Aquarium at Wheeler High School in North Stonington Friday, June 3, 2016.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
Wheeler High School senior Maddie Porter presents her senior research project on sea lion training at the Mystic Aquarium at Wheeler High School in North Stonington Friday, June 3, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

North Stonington — Maddie Porter doesn't take a break.

When pouring rain came down on fellow senior Justine Gouvin's walkathon to raise money for a traumatic brain injury organization, Porter still walked.

When Gouvin held a screening that had to be rescheduled and "so many people weren't coming," Porter was there anyway, National Honor Society advisor Jessica Cawley said.

For her devoted volunteer work with NHS and previously the Oxfam Club, where she volunteered with the Old Lyme food pantry, Porter is known throughout the high school for her work helping others and her attitude.

"I don't think I've met anyone so genuine or caring, even when no one is watching," said her softball coach, Joseph Cawley — Jessica Cawley's husband.

Porter said her service has been inspired by her family. 

Her father was deployed to Iraq when she was in elementary school and her mother worked long hours as an emergency room nurse.

"My mom has always stressed to me, 'If there's a donation list, write your name down, if there's somewhere you can be to help out, then be there,'" Porter said.

During the time when her father was deployed, she spent lots of time with her grandparents, and it was her grandfather, James Sisk, and his longtime service to the community that also served as an inspiration for her own community service. 

A former selectman and longtime chair of the WPCA in Stonington, Fisk died in January, and it has been a challenge dealing with his death during senior year, Porter said, adding that he always had advice, especially for the countless sports teams he coached.

"He always told me what I can do to make a layup next, what I can do to get a hit next, (it was) always the advice I was waiting for," she said. 

By sheer coincidence, her father became acquainted with Jessica Cawley while they were both serving as military police in Baghdad. 

Cawley took a job as an English teacher at Wheeler after her service, and would later advise several clubs that Porter was involved with at the high school.

As an underclassman, Porter volunteered with Cawley at the Old Lyme food pantry through the school's Oxfam Club, and a lot of service projects transfered to NHS when the club became inactive.

When it came time for Porter to select her National Honor Society service project, she drew upon her father's service and her careful attention to women's rights.

"I saw online that a lot of the things we sent overseas didn't really apply to women as much ... I think we often forget there are female soldiers stationed overseas," she said. 

"We send over razors, we send over shaving cream but why not People magazine, nailcare products, something that makes everyone feel included?" she said.

Further research connected her with the California-based organization called "Operation Courage is Beautiful," which helps send care packages to women overseas.

Alongside her fellow NHS members and the school's BRAVE club, she produced a video and flyers requesting donations, which quickly poured in: stationery, snacks, nail care products, hygenic products, puzzles, lotion, sunscreen and chapstick.

Joseph Cawley said to this day if he sees a sixth-grader wandering lost, he will send the student to Porter and "that kid is taken where he or she needs to go."

Porter is headed to Suffolk University in Boston in the fall, a big adjustment, she says.

But she's excited.

"I want to go somewhere bigger. I've been in this small school and had a great experience but I have a city itch," she said.

n.lynch@theday.com

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