AP NEWS

Greenwich honors 26 students who teach lessons in helping others

March 13, 2019

GREENWICH — Twenty-six students in Greenwich Public Schools were recognized for their contributions to the communiy through the hundreds of volunteer hours they offered up, the thousands of dollars they raised and the countless lives they changed.

For every student, giving back is a way of life. But for two who received awards Tuesday night, the work was motivated by personal struggles.

Principal John Grasso of Hamilton Avenue School broke with tradition to honor second-grader John Tembeck, who has raised more money than any other student for the school’s annual Math-a-Thon to support St. Jude’s Research Hospital.

Over the last 10 years, students have raised more than $50,000, and this year, raised $4,700. Tembeck, who also had the distinction of being the smallest person on stage, raised $2,000 over two years.

The honor has a deep significance to his family, who has lost two family members to cancer.

Tembeck listed off the math he loves — addition, subtraction, multiplication and division — and said that he loves to help people with cancer.

“They don’t die because they have money to buy medicine,” he said.

The second-grader carries the name of his father, John Tembeck, who died of cancer when he was just 1 year old, his mother Sonia said.

“My dad had cancer. His dad had cancer. I don’t want to have cancer,” he said.

He has his own way of processing it, his mother said, as she watched her son race for a cookie in the Galleria at Greenwich High School.

Luke McQuillan of Eastern Middle School has already battled cancer, a struggle that led him to start the Holiday Gift Drive for Tweens and Teens at Yale New Haven Hospital, which provides positive experiences and gifts to those battling cancer.

McQuillan noticed that many holiday gift programs focus on young children, so his charity targets 10- to 18-year-olds who are undergoing painful treatments and battling potentially terminal illnesses.

His organization has partnered with Eastern, St. Catherine of Siena Church, Sotheby’s Realty, Riverside School, North Street School and Americares, as well as friends and family, to raise $35,000 in two years.

“Community service gives meaning to our lives,” said Ernest Fleishman, the former superintendent of schools who led the district from 1976 to 1989 and started the awards program in 1985.

He bestowed the Fleishman Award for Community Service on Allison Brea, a GHS senior who juggled working with the homeless, taking part on the varsity swimming and diving team, playing violin and tutoring math in addition to her school work.

Brea has also earned the Gold Award, the highest achievement in the Girl Scouts of America, for her contributions to “Project Connect,” in which she dedicated more than 100 hours of service, collecting undergarments for the Fairfield County homeless population.

In fact, she has decided that the check Fleishman will donate to a charity of her choice will go back to the homeless population in the county through the United Way.

Brea has also volunteered at the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, preparing and serving dinner to women and children, the St. Catherine of Siena Church annual fair and fundraiser, the Jewish Community Center’s Maccabi Games event and the Greenwich Teddy Bear Clinic.

The future freshman at Tufts University is also a violinist in the GHS Honors Symphony Orchestra, captain of the Varsity Swim and Dive Team and a member of the National Honors Society, as well as the Mathematics, Science and Spanish national honor societies.

Fleishman, Board of Education Chair Peter Bernstein and First Selectman Tesei distributed certificates and shook hands with every student, and each said a few words.

Tesei heralded the students as Greenwich heroes.

“We applaud your efforts to help your fellow man and woman,” he said. “You see needs and respond in a humane, just and kind way.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com