Community is rooted in compassion

Irene Herman, left, and Anna Lyons, right, make cards for Hannah Thorpe. - Ryan Schierling/Staff Photo
Irene Herman, left, and Anna Lyons, right, make cards for Hannah Thorpe.
— image credit: Ryan Schierling/Staff Photo

Herman, Lyons are among the youths honored by BYS for their altruistic acts.

They don’t know what all the fuss is about. It just seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

When Bainbridge High School sophomores Irene Herman and Anna Lyons learned they’d been nominated for a Compassionate Action Award for escorting disabled Woodward students to the eighth grade banquet last spring, the friends were caught off guard.

“I don’t think it deserves this much recognition,” Herman said. “I was kind of surprised.”

Herman had come to know the “functional skills” Woodward kids after her family traded Mercer Island for Bainbridge at the start of her seventh grade year.

“When I moved here, I didn’t have very many friends,” she said. “I could eat with the special-ed kids or I could eat alone.”

She maintained the association in eighth grade, and Lyons joined her after the two became friends.

“We weren’t aids in the classroom or anything,” Herman said, “but we ate lunch together. And we’d see them in the halls and say ‘hi.’”

The relationships moved to another level after the duo made personalized cards for all of the school’s special-needs students.

“Irene came to me and said ‘I’d like to know the names of all the kids so I can make them Valentines,” said former Woodward special education teacher Holly Keenan, who has since moved on to the high school. “She’s been our good friend ever since.”

So when the girls were approached by Woodward paraeducator Jean Hey last spring to take eighth graders M’rissa Curran and Hannah Thorpe to the banquet, the pair didn’t think twice about saying “yes.”

“They didn’t want their parents to take them,” Lyons said. “They wanted to make it a relaxed situation. They wanted it to be normal.”

Neither student regarded the event as a duty to be discharged.

“I thought it sounded like fun,” Lyons said. “M’rissa and Hannah are both so funny.”

The special-ed students enjoy Lyons and Herman’s company as well – although they may not communicate verbally.

“I know Hannah enjoys the interaction with the other students, even though she usually prefers to remain silent, herself,” Keenan said.

All heart

The Compassionate Action Awards were established by Bainbridge Youth Services last year to recognize altruistic youth from Bainbridge and North Kitsap.

“We felt we needed to recognize kids who were not athletes, artists or ‘brainiacs,’” BYS board member and volunteer Kitty Grant said. “These are the kids who quietly do kind acts.”

Lyons and Herman were among 65 other Bainbridge and North Kitsap kids nominated by community members for an awards ceremony at Grace Church last month.

The young people’s compassionate actions ranged from Kendra Curtin helping seniors at Wyatt House, to Fran Frieda teaching knitting at the Women’s Correctional Penitentiary at Purdy.

Several organized groups were nominated, including island-based Camp Siberia, young people who travel annually to Russia to run a summer camp for children, and Youth Lead and Serve, high school students active in volunteering and organizing community projects.

While kids may learn compassion from mentors, at church, or even from enlightened peers, both Herman and Lyons say their “right action” began at home.

“My mom has always been, like, ‘be nice to everyone,’” Lyons said.

Church has also played a role in imparting values – for Herman and her family, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, and for Lyons, Cross Sound.

Doing good works doesn’t make either Lyons or Herman immune to the stresses of the high school years, they admit.

Both feel anxiety striving for good grades in honors classes and facing SATs and the rigorous mandatory class, American Studies, next year. But both say they would rather “go bowling or eat a lot of chocolate” than fall into substance abuse, a problem being confronted by parents and educators.

After graduation, Lyons hopes to attend the University of Washington, while Herman wants to study psychology and history. They sum up the wisdom gleaned from their friendships with the special education kids this way:

“They’re just exactly like you,” Lyons said. “They might even be the best people you know.”

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