When Jaime Bairaktaris moved to Westport, entering Bedford Middle School 4 months into 8th grade, he already knew 2 people: his triplet brothers.
But the 3 boys are very different. So coming into a new school — even from nearby Redding — was a shock.
“Bedford was much more diverse. The kids were more advanced,” Jaime — now a Staples senior — recalls. “They used profanity in a paper, and the teacher called it ‘powerful.'”
His family raised the boys to do things for others. During his first week at Staples, Jaime saw a poster with an ambulance. “That looks like fun,” he thought.
Soon, he was in an Emergency Medical Responder class. That’s become his main activity. Jaime quickly moved up the EMT ranks. He’s just 3 IV sticks away from advanced certification.
Jaime Bairaktaris, in an EMS ambulance. (Photo/Dorrie Harris)
In July 2014, he was elected to the EMS board. He provides tech support, and as “Mr. Sunshine” sends cards on every member’s birthday. “It’s not a big deal,” he admits. “But it’s a great feeling. Little things add up to something larger.”
Jaime also volunteers as an assistant teacher in Earthplace‘s after-school and summer programs. He loves watching kids grow up — at the same time he helps them get there.
“I love the ambulance. But you only see someone for 15 or 30 minutes,” Jaime says. “Earthplace is a different way to help.”
Jaime Bairaktaris at Earthplace’s summer camp. He says it’s a tossup which activity the kids like more: mud fights, or hosing off afterward. (Photo/Harris Falk)
One day freshman year, Jaime took a photo of a snapping turtle he found in his yard. His mother suggested sending the shot to WestportNow. Since then, the website has published over 200 of his images. They show beach scenes, Staples High School and sunsets. “You don’t have to go far to see beautiful things,” Jaime says.
Jaime’s next project does involve going far, though.
He’s taken 4 years of Italian at Staples. He loves the class, and his teacher Enia Noonan.
“We talk about everything: language, culture, stereotypes,” Jaime says. “It’s not just how you say hello, but who you say it to, and why.”
Jaime’s mother is Italian (Sicilian and Neapolitan). “My roots are really important to me,” says Jaime. “If you know where you’re from, you know who you are.”
Naples, he knows, is not the most beautiful city. There is poverty and crime. Jaime has never traveled abroad — but in April he heads there, to volunteer for 2 weeks with an international program for elementary-age children. It’s a safe place for them — in a very rough neighborhood — while their parents work.
He’ll live in a dorm, with volunteers from all over the world. It’s a big commitment — but one he embraces. He takes it eagerly, and with an independent spirit often lacking among teenagers today.
Like this: Jaime drove to and visited colleges on his own. A trip to the University of Maine was typical: He stopped at Acadia National Park and Boston along the way. He met strangers, and they parted as friends.
“I realize my parents trust me a lot,” he says. “I appreciate that.”
(They found out he’d applied to the Napoli program after he was accepted. Hey, when you’ve got triplets there’s a lot going on at home.)
Right now, Jaime needs help with funds. Donations will pay for program fees, insurance, airfare, and a course in teaching English as a foreign language he hopes to take. Anything extra will be donated to the Naples school, for supplies.
“When people think about service trips, they never consider Italy,” he says. “But the need for service is real. These children are in trouble. I want to help. What better way to end my senior year than to make a difference in their lives?”
And what better way for Westport to help this remarkable, giving Staples student? Every contribution counts: www.gofundme.com/helpnapoli.