Everyday ‘heroes’ help children through challenging times at Jewett City Youth Center
Superheroes on the silver screen need special powers, as well as capes or other dramatic clothing. Everyday heroes are different: no glamorous wardrobe or special abilities required.
Some of the children at the Jewett City Youth Center’s After-School Program in Griswold were asked to share who their heroes are, and their answers were enlightening.
Fourth-grade teacher Russell Salvador at Griswold Elementary School is sixth-grader Owen’s hero, “because he used to help me through tough times,” he said.
Jesse, 16, said his mother, Kathleen, is his hero. “She’s always been there for me, always supporting, helped me out.” The 11th grader believes to reach “hero” status, someone must be dependable, have people’s respect for it and “always be there for people.”
Hospital doctors and nurses are 9-year-old Kyleah’s heroes. “They tried as hard as they could to keep my little sister alive,” after she contracted COVID-19, the fourth grader said.
“It’s human nature to look up to and follow role models. We innately seem to understand even as very young children when someone shows strength over adversity. We want to be like them,” stated Dr. Heather Ziemba, a licensed professional counselor in Norwich who specializes in individual, couples and family psychotherapy.
In her email, she added, “Often heroes demonstrate that flaws can be overcome and they build resilience from following their convictions and doing what’s right. Heroes teach us what’s right and how to identify a sense of justice.”
Thirteen-year-old Jacob’s hero is actor/professional wrestler John Cena, “because he spreads kindness in the world” and donates money to young children.
Youth Center Staff Member Hannah, 17, is considered a hero by 10-year-old Julia and 12-year-old Giselle.
“She’s really helpful to all the kids who come here and she gives good advice no matter what it has to do with,” said Julia, adding that Hannah will stop what she is doing if they need her.
Giselle said Hannah is her hero “because she’s really nice to all of us and she helps us,” has a good sense of humor and comforts her when she is sad.
Hannah, a high school senior, said her hero is her best friend, Alex, 17, who is also a youth center staff member. “She’s just always there for me and we both have been through like rough patches. But we’ve been there for each other like every single time something goes wrong, or even when something goes right, we’re just always around the corner from each other.”
Hannah said a hero is “Somebody that never fails to be able to talk to you and somebody that values trust.”
Seventeen-year-old Enrique has three heroes, including his grandfather, Felix (Carlos), a veteran who died during the pandemic. In addition to fighting to protect this country, Enrique said he taught him to respect laws, “because the people who make those laws are trying to protect you even if you don’t know them.”
His second hero is his father, Henry, who continues to teach him life lessons passed down from his grandfather. In addition to being “nice and caring,” Enrique said his father “makes sure that I’m always safe and that I don’t get into trouble. Literally, today I realized I needed a permit to drive. So he helped me with the laws to understand them, obey them and not to forget them mostly.”
The high-school student said his father told him, “Don’t hang out with the bad people. Hang out with the good people.”
Samoan-American wrestler Roman Reigns of World Wrestling Entertainment fame (real name: Leati Joseph Anoa’i) is Enrique’s third hero, because he is “a nice guy.”
“He inspired me in the pandemic because everything about him changed.” Enrique explained that the wrestler used to say, “believe in the ring gear (such as elbow and knee pads) and now he just wears pants and shoes and goes shirtless (during a match). “And now he says, ‘Acknowledge me.’”
“Current research appears to support renowned psychologist Carl Jung’s theory that newborn babies are genetically ready for certain things like language, numbers, their parents’ faces, and are also drawn to people with morality. Children thrive when nurtured and look for those that help them feel secure to navigate struggles in life and solve problems,” Dr. Ziemba said.
“Heroes teach children proper behaviors to help them succeed in life. They can help children feel a sense of safety in times of unrest and conflict in their homes, or school, or their communities. It’s not a surprise that not only children need heroes, so do adults.”
Some children consider their friends their heroes.
Twelve-year-old Arianna and Raelynn are “bestest” friends and each other’s hero. “I’ve known her since we were babies and we’ve been best friends since forever,” said Arianna, adding that when she is sad, Raelynn is sad too.
“I can tell her like anything at all in the world,” Raelynn said.
Fifth-grader Cassandra, 10, said all her friends are heroes. One in particular is Riley, 11. “When times are rough and stuff, she would just be there to help me and to comfort me, to make me feel like I’m somebody and not nobody.”
Jan Tormay, a longtime resident of Norwich, now lives in Westerly.